After decriminalization of traffic offenses, jaywalking, advocates push to reform vast misdemeanor system

In the wake of Nevada lawmakers decriminalizing minor traffic offenses and jaywalking, criminal justice reform advocates have set their sights on a new goal — downgrading other misdemeanors to civil infractions and addressing consequences associated with the misdemeanor system.

Misdemeanors are considered the lowest-level crimes, behind felonies and gross misdemeanors, and can result in an individual being sentenced to up to six months in jail, fined up to $1,000, or both — for anything ranging from feeding pigeons to domestic violence battery. While some misdemeanors such as provoking assault have lesser fines that are enumerated in state law, the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that police may arrest and jail individuals for any misdemeanor even without a warrant. 

Advocates have drawn parallels between misdemeanors and racist practices dating back to Reconstruction – a turbulent era of the reintegration of the Confederate states into the United States and formerly enslaved people into society after the Civil War –  and said lawmakers and officials need to reevaluate what is considered a misdemeanor

“We need to start thinking about how we think about misdemeanors,” said Leisa Moseley, Nevada state director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “The purpose of this misdemeanor system, how much revenue it generates, how it catches people up in the system, and why are we even … allowed to arrest people for such what we consider minor infractions.”

Changing misdemeanors to civil infractions would mean police officers would issue citations rather than attempting to arrest people and get them in a police car. Eve Hanan, a professor at the UNLV Boyd School of Law who runs the UNLV misdemeanor clinic that represents people charged with low-level offenses, said doing so would likely reduce sometimes-deadly encounters between people and the police.

Hanan said she believes that had George Floyd been given a citation rather than getting arrested, he might still be alive. 

“It was really the decision to put him into the back of the police car that was the start of the chain of events which led to his killing,” Hanan said.

Efforts to scale back the potential consequences of misdemeanors this session faced pushback from critics who say that doing so takes away police officers’ discretion to arrest people as necessary.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department policy prevents officers from making minor misdemeanor arrests unless they are approved by a supervisor, said Chuck Callaway, a lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Callaway said he “adamantly opposed” AB440 – a bill advanced this year that will require police officers to issue citations for certain misdemeanors that do not constitute repeat offenses, violent crimes “or certain other prohibited offenses under certain circumstances.” 

If someone peeks through the window of another person’s house without possessing a deadly weapon or camera and the homeowner calls the police, Callaway offered as an example, the officers can give the person a ticket but can’t make an arrest.

“Oftentimes those crimes elevate to break-ins and to sexual assaults and other types of crime,” said Callaway. “If the bill passed in its original form, basically a citizen would have more police power than a police officer because a citizen under our law can make a citizen’s arrest.”

Yet, advocates continue to push for the decriminalization of minor offenses. One individual was held in custody for 72 hours for feeding pigeons – a misdemeanor charged under the Henderson Municipal Court.

The conversation about rethinking misdemeanors is already under way in Nevada. The Clark County Black Caucus — which has been leading conversations on reforms in Nevada for over a decade — organized a panel discussion and screening hosted at the Mob Museum early this month of a documentary short film about the history of the misdemeanor system and its long-lasting and disproportionate harms on Black, brown and low-income people in the United States.  

The film, Racially Charged: America’s Misdemeanor Problem, points to similarities between Black codes in the 19th century – restrictive laws designed to limit the freedom of African-Americans and to ensure their availability as a cheap labor force after slavery was abolished – and modern-day misdemeanors. 

Black codes attached big penalties to minor or made-up offenses – such as being drunk in public, walking alongside the railroad tracks and being homeless – and were almost exclusively enforced against African-American people, Paul Butler, a Georgetown law professor and author of Chokehold, says in the film.

During the Reconstruction era, many newly freed enslaved people were able to make significant achievements “that really threatened white supremacy,” Irene Joe, a University of California Davis law professor and co-author of When Every Sentence Is A Possible Death Sentence, said in the film. 

Others in the film argue governments created Black codes to earn a profit and to create a steady source of cheap or free labor after the abolition of slavery. 

“For these governments to sell prisoners into slavery, you first have to arrest lots of people,” Douglas Blackmon, Georgia State University Professor and author of Slavery By Another Name, said in the film. “There’s a big problem with that, though. There’s just not enough crime for this system to work and for it to be profitable. The state governments of the South had to invent new crimes.”

The film compared the historical example of John Owen, a Black man who was sentenced under the Black codes to perform convict labor for two years taking six ears of corn and a third year for the court costs with the modern-day example of Faylita Hicks, who spent 45 days in jail for using a bounced check for $25 worth of food during a period of homelessness in 2010.

“It hurt me for 10 years, and it completely disrupted my life, and I have been trying to figure out how to get my life back on track,” Hicks said in the film. 

A treadmill of fines and fees 

The Legislature took a major step this year to take certain misdemeanors off the book with AB116, a bill which allows minor traffic offenses to be charged as civil infractions rather than crimes. Once the bill takes full effect in 2023, people cannot be arrested for certain low-level offenses, or for missing payment of a fine or failing to appear in court for such a citation. 

But the bill does not prevent those fines, nor the slew of fees that may come with them, from accumulating and putting people unable to pay them into debt. Those expenses include court costs, administrative assessment fees, cash bail deposit, and more.

One woman who moved from Chicago to Las Vegas in 2006 received $4,431 in ticket fines that were raised to more than $20,000 with additional fines and fees, according to data analyzed by the UNLV Misdemeanor Clinic that recently helped her. Such fines and fees can have long-lasting consequences.

“It takes away people’s livelihood[s]. It limits who can get employment in many cases,” Moseley said. “If you got a misdemeanor conviction, you have to report that if you’re trying to get into law school, if you’re trying to get into medical school.” 

Advocates hope to tackle some of the pitfalls people face as they try to respond to a misdemeanor charge.

In 2019, Nevada lawmakers passed AB434 – a bill that required courts to perform ability-to-pay assessments and to offer community service or a payment plan for those unable to pay a traffic fine. But it is unclear whether such assessments are being applied uniformly across the state and whether people are consistently being offered the opportunity to perform community service if they are unable to pay, Moseley told lawmakers earlier this year. 

Individuals who say they cannot pay fines and fees associated with misdemeanors are required to appear in court so a judge can determine whether they are truly unable to pay or whether they purposefully did not pay.

All too often, people who cannot pay fines and fees try to stay away from the court until they have the money to pay, Hanan said. But, if they miss the payment due date, a warrant goes out for their arrest and they can be incarcerated until they go before a judge to argue that they were unable to pay, Hanan added.

“You’ll eventually get released but, you know, it only takes a day or two to lose your job and to have your children in [a] situation you don’t want to be in,” Hanan said. 

And sometimes people are unable to commit to community service or to making payments according to a court-ordered payment plan, which comes with an additional fee just to enroll and that can range from $50 to $150, according to Moseley. 

That was the case for Leslie Turner, head of the Mass Liberation Project criminal justice reform initiative. She owed fines for traffic tickets in 2015, but was unable to perform the manual labor community service options available to her because she was pregnant. After giving birth to a premature baby boy, she had to stop working and was unable to make the payments on her plan.

Nguyen and Moseley are working together to pass a bill for the next legislative session that would make the definition of community service more flexible. Texas, for example, allows people to choose from a wide range of community service options including volunteering at a nonprofit organization or at a school.

Individuals are charged fees if they miss a payment or submit a late payment, which can add up. Under Nevada law, a person can spend time in jail instead of paying fines and fees. One day in jail counts for $150. 

“If they just simply cannot pay, for non-willful failure to pay, there are many people out there who have elected to spend several days to a week or more in jail in order to eliminate, to be done with the fines and fees that they owe to the court,” Hanan said. 

Some people get trapped in the system of accumulating debt from unpaid fines and fees associated with misdemeanors because they do not understand the intricacies of the legal system. 

Individuals who are unable to pay for an attorney are entitled to a public defender, but there is a caveat: To qualify, they must be facing jail time. If the prosecutor is not seeking jail time, the judge will charge the individual fines and fees, and the individual is expected to pay or negotiate those fines and fees on their own.

The UNLV Misdemeanor Clinic that Hanan runs with law Professor Anne Traum represents clients who are struggling with debt from criminal justice fines and fees but are not eligible for a public defender — free of charge. 

Nguyen said she is working on clarifying in Nevada law all the fines and fees imposed for civil infractions. 

Much of the revenue from these fines and fees goes to fund local courts. But money collected for fees such as administrative assessment fees – additional costs assessed against each defendant and that are enumerated in Nevada law – are used to fund specialty courts such as DUI courts, drug courts and youth offender courts. 

Advocates have criticized local governments’ reliance on criminal justice fines and fees. Although data on where fines and fees associated with misdemeanors go in Nevada is limited, the Fines and Fees Justice Center released a report showing that Nevada has consistently raised administrative assessment funds over the past two decades. 

In 1987, the Legislature raised administrative assessment funds from $10 to $100 to fund an expansion and upgrade of technology. The fee first was introduced in 1983 when Congress cut approximately $40 billion from its budget, causing states to scramble for alternative ways to fund their justice systems. 

Building consensus

Nguyen is optimistic about implementing more legislation to decriminalize more misdemeanors. Because AB116 requires courts in Nevada to create a civil infractions system, they will already have a system in place to address misdemeanors that lawmakers change to civil infractions.

Nguyen attributes this year’s passage of AB116 – after four unsuccessful attempts to decriminalize minor traffic offenses – to her conversations with people working in the criminal justice system such as members of the courts and police officers. 

“Sometimes, you think that you’re in opposition to them and it turns out, you actually want the same thing,” Nguyen said. 

She said she spoke with district attorneys who have historically been in opposition to the measure, asked them what she could do to get them on board, had them speak to Moseley and provided them with evidence of its success in other states. She said she plans to do the same when it comes time to discuss decriminalizing more misdemeanors. 

“I think that helps bring people in to realize …. this change is not so scary. It’s needed. It’s necessary and it’ll actually make things better for you,” Nguyen said. 

Reporter Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.

This story was updated at 1:20 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021 to reflect that the film screening was organized by the Clark County Black Caucus. 

The Indy Explains: Nevada’s new short-term rental law and what it means for companies such as Airbnb

Frustration over an ineffective ban on short-term rental properties in unincorporated Clark County and a patchwork of rules across municipalities prompted state lawmakers this spring to pass a bill aimed at standardizing rules and holding hosting platforms such as Airbnb or Vrbo liable for noncompliance with local regulations.

The measure, AB363, has faced criticism both for going too far and not going far enough — the bill drew opposition during the legislative session from short-term rental owners, neighborhood associations, rental platform companies and others who warned that it would kneecap the industry. The bill also attracted a broad swath of influential supporters, including the Nevada Resort Association and Culinary Union, and passed through both the Senate and Assembly with a two-thirds majority.

Bill sponsor Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) told The Nevada Independent that despite some confusion over the bill’s provisions, the measure is the first step to addressing a lack of uniform short-term rental regulations, which has been blamed for uncontrollable party houses and a dearth of affordable housing.

“Anyone can go on Airbnb’s platform or Vrbo’s platform or HomeAway’s platform, and they can pull up literally thousands of illegal listings,” Nguyen said. “We need to make sure that other parts of our state [without regulations] are protected from this proliferation of unregulated short-term rentals.”

Much of the confusion stems from substantial changes made between the initial version of the bill and the final version approved by legislators. Despite early discussions centered on creating a statewide policy, the bill as passed applies only to counties with a population greater than 700,000 (Clark County) and to cities within that county that have a population greater than 25,000 (Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas). 

During the bill’s presentation and in discussions surrounding the measure, Airbnb and other opponents warned that night minimums and distance requirements restricting short-term rentals near gaming properties could hinder Nevada’s post-pandemic recovery.

In a statement to The Nevada Independent, Airbnb’s Public Policy Manager Adam Thongsavat wrote that Airbnb generally supports efforts to legalize short-term rentals, but still saw the bill as overly restrictive.

“We echo Hosts who were disheartened to see punitive, anti-competitive amendments included that made this bill a gift for resorts at the expense of regular Nevadans who share their homes,” Thongsavat said. “Short-term rentals have been a lifeline for residents who rely on the income to make ends meet — now is the time to work together to bolster Nevada’s economy and hospitality industry, not make it harder for travelers to visit the state.”  

Supporters hold that the measure could lead to substantial tax benefits — Airbnb alone estimated that it would have collected and remitted up to $14.5 million in hotel room taxes on behalf of Nevada-based hosts had the law been in effect in 2019. Nguyen estimated that untaxed short-term rentals represent a loss of about $45 million in room tax revenue annually. 

But the measure does more than just require the adoption of new regulations and strengthen enforcement mechanisms — it also limits the number of short-term rental permits individuals can hold and establishes licensing requirements while allowing existing city policies surrounding short-term rentals to be grandfathered in.

Here’s an in-depth look at the measure, where it applies and some of the decision-making behind it:

A vacation rental at Lake Tahoe on Monday, June 28, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

What the new law does

The bill requires Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County to include short-term residential spaces in their legal definitions of “transient lodging” — meaning they are subject to the same taxes that hotels charge guests. 

The current Clark County hotel tax rate ranges from 12.5 to 13.38 percent along the resort corridor, and for other lodging facilities ranges 10.5 to 13.38 percent. In Southern Nevada, Clark County collects room taxes in the unincorporated county (which includes the Strip) and the municipalities collect within their jurisdictions. The tax revenue is then distributed to various entities including the Convention and Visitors Authority, state education fund, school districts and transportation district.

Under the new law, local governments will have to create a process requiring anyone renting out a room or space to submit an application for a short-term rental permit, pay an annual fee set by the municipality to maintain that permit, designate a local representative for the rental and maintain liability coverage for the unit. All transactions and permits will go through local jurisdictions as opposed to a state agency.

Other changes the bill makes:

  • Sets a minimum stay of two nights for short-term rentals, excluding owner-occupied properties that can be rented for as little as one night
  • Limits maximum occupancy for short-term rentals to 16 people
  • Establishes a minimum distance of 660 feet between any two short-term rentals, except for units within a multi-family dwelling
  • Requires a separation of 2,500 feet between the property line of a resort hotel and a short-term rental that is a single-family residence
  • Caps the percentage of allowed short-term rentals in a multi-family dwelling at 10 percent of units within the dwelling (such as condominium units, townhouses and duplexes)
  • Prohibits apartments or rooms in apartment buildings from being used as short-term rentals
  • Requires short-term rental owners to have a designated local representative who is responsible for the rental and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to any issues
  • Prohibits short-term rental owners from holding more than five short-term rental permits (one permit per property).

The law goes into effect on July 1 and stipulates that local authorities have the ability to suspend a permit or impose fines or penalties if a short-term rental owner or manager violates the ordinance. Fines for a single violation against an individual renting out a property must not be less than $1,000 or more than $10,000. 

The law also specifies that local governments cannot enact an outright ban on short-term residential rentals.

To encourage unlawful short-term rental operators to apply for permits, the law protects them from being penalized during the application process. After local jurisdictions adopt a new short-term rental ordinance and give at least 30 days notice of the application period, unlawful actors have up to six months to apply for a permit. Though the law does not require payment of back taxes, county commissions can charge a “reasonable fee” for any such application and the law does not automatically require them to grant permits to unlawful operators.

Nguyen said the measure marks the first time a state has enacted a policy stipulating that local jurisdictions can penalize short-term rental platforms that do not comply with local ordinances. The law does not specify what the actual penalties must be, leaving the decision up to local jurisdictions.

"I do want to make sure that these local jurisdictions are able to hold these platforms accountable when appropriate,” she said, adding that she hoped the law will encourage rental platforms to address problems from bad actor property owners and managers.

When jurisdictions establish their ordinances in line with the new law, they can be stricter than the provisions outlined in the bill, Nguyen said. By setting floors and ceilings on regulations such as fines and distance requirements, she said state lawmakers were trying to ensure that local governments had enough autonomy to make necessary adjustments, while also protecting long-term residents.

“Local jurisdictions can be more restrictive, but they can't just bury their head in the sand and say ‘Hey, we banned them’ and not do anything about them,” Nguyen said. 

Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Patchwork network of short-term rental regulations

Prior to the legislative session, three counties (Clark, Washoe and Douglas) and a handful of cities had adopted formal policies on short-term rentals. The policies ranged from total bans (unincorporated Clark County), no regulations (Washoe County), to allowing rentals only in owner-occupied homes (City of Las Vegas) to requiring each unit to have a landline telephone (City of Mesquite).

Under the law, existing short-term rental properties are grandfathered in, but Nguyen said that the bill gives the larger cities within Clark County more enforcement mechanisms and a greater ability to regulate the market. 

The grandfather clause only applies to existing, lawful properties. For example, if a current short-term rental is within 2,500 feet of a resort, it may remain. A short-term rental application submitted after the law goes into effect on July 1 will not be approved if it lies within 2,500 feet of a resort.

Southern Nevada municipalities each had adopted separate policies on short-term rentals prior to passage of AB363, though many of the provisions appear similar to those in the new law because Nguyen based the bill’s regulations off of these existing policies.

Henderson currently requires short-term rental managers to pay an annual $820 registration fee, and applicants must submit a noise management plan as part of their registration. No more than 25 percent of all units in a multifamily complex may be registered as short-term rentals, and planned communities have the authority to ban them outright. 

Henderson property owners or site managers are also required to complete a certification program and offer guests a copy of the city’s Good Neighbor pamphlet containing information about quiet hours, trash regulations and contact information for police and the city’s short-term vacation rental complaint hotline.

Within the City of Las Vegas, short-term rentals are only allowed in owner-occupied homes that have three or fewer bedrooms and are at least 660 feet away from another short-term rental. Rentals must comply with licensing, noise and parking requirements. 

Applicants for short-term rental licenses from the city must have the proposed short-term rental inspected by a code enforcement officer and pay a non-refundable application fee of $50 and an annual permit fee of $500. Licensees are also required to provide proof of liability insurance with a $500,000 coverage minimum.

North Las Vegas allows short-term rentals as long as a property owner applies for (and receives) a conditional use permit. After property owners receive such a permit, they must apply for a business license. To receive a license, an owner must send a copy of the city’s Good Neighbor brochure to all property owners within 200 feet of the short-term rental. The conditional use permit has a one-time fee of $100, and the business license fee is $900, paid annually.

North Las Vegas also requires a 660-foot separation requirement from other short-term rentals, and property owners must install noise monitoring equipment outside. Short-term rentals can only exist within multi-family zoning where the units are individually owned and can make up no more than 50 percent of the units or a maximum of eight units (whichever is less within a duplex, condominium or townhouse). Individual room rentals are only permitted if the residential unit is owner-occupied.

All three municipalities stipulate that short-term rentals are only to be used as overnight accommodations and may not be used for weddings, special or sales events, bachelor or bachelorette parties or other similar events.

Nguyen said that Boulder City asked not be included because city officials felt they did not have the resources to put together an ordinance and wanted to maintain its ban on short-term rentals.

“I personally think it was short-sighted. You’ve got to come up with really easy regulations and then you will also benefit from the protections that we also included in the bill … but that is up to them,” Nguyen said. “There were some substantial benefits. I know that's why Clark County was so involved in some of the added provisions for enforcement because they knew that it was coming, and they wanted to make sure that they had some of that extra teeth to go after some of the platforms.”

A vacation rental sign featuring a notice for accommodations at Lake Tahoe on Monday, June 28, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Washoe County

Unlike Clark County, Washoe County never adopted a ban on short-term rentals. The county collected taxes on short-term rentals, but previously had no restrictions or regulations in place, leading to complaints about party houses and lack of cleanliness from guests. 

The county includes not only the city of Reno but also the Incline Village and Lake Tahoe communities, which feature a thriving short-term rental market and tension between long-term residents and tourists.

Earlier this year, the county finished putting together an ordinance that will require a permitting process and various regulations around safety, occupancy limits, noise levels and trash pickup among other requirements. The ordinance is set to go into effect on Aug. 1.

Because the ordinance was adopted while the bill was being debated in the Legislature, the county requested to be left out of the provisions of the new law but has plans to continue working with Nguyen in the interim on potentially adopting a statewide short-term rental policy.

“These regulations are going to come up again and it's a real concern … Sometimes you're on the county level and you're all by yourself doing this, and the fact that the state is looking at these things too with you as a partner and … finding something that works for all of us, I think that's what we're trying to do,” Washoe County Commissioner Alexis Hill said in an interview. 

Between March 2016 and February 2021, Airbnb’s tax collection agreement with Washoe County generated around $7.6 million in revenue for local jurisdictions. Hill said that the county is monitoring the implementation of the new ordinance and seeing how it affects the local short-term rental market and economy. She added that the ordinance is not set in stone and the county will make adjustments as needed.

“We're all very open to seeing how we can make things better,” Hill said.

Lake Tahoe on Monday, June 28, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Platform liability and housing market protection

Giving local governments the ability to enforce and enact rules and ordinances that penalize platforms that do not comply with the regulations — establishing platform liability — is one of the hallmarks of the new law.

Platforms will be required to list a host’s short-term rental permit number, so when a consumer is using their site, they will know whether a property is licensed. And if a host repeatedly fails to comply with ordinances, local authorities will have the ability to hold the platform accountable. The bill leaves the method of accountability up to the county, but Nguyen said that it could be in the form of a fine or another enforcement mechanism.

The limit on the number of permits is also designed to prevent larger companies or organizations from purchasing multiple properties and using them as short-term rentals, thereby protecting the region’s housing stock and alleviating the housing shortage.

The law’s requirement for hosting platforms to verify the registration status of third-party short-term rental listings — opening up such platforms to penalties for host noncompliance — may be subject to legal challenge.

In 2016, Airbnb sued the city of San Francisco, arguing that an ordinance requiring hosts to register with the city violates an online home-sharing company’s free speech rights. A year later, Airbnb settled with the city, creating a registration system for Airbnbs within San Francisco and agreeing to deactivate listings if there is an invalid registration.

Vivek Sah, director of the Lied Center for Real Estate at UNLV, said that short-term rentals can disrupt communities and may over time reduce home equity. Regulating short-term rentals helps mitigate these issues, he said, adding the caveat that he is unsure how the new law could affect the affordable housing market because there is not much research or empirical evidence surrounding affordable housing and short-term rentals. 

“We don't have enough data, because this is something very, very new, to see for sure what kind of implications it may have,” Sah said. “We're not getting rid of them. We’re just regulating them.”

Nguyen said that discussions around short-term rentals are far from over, and said she expects to make adjustments to the law in the future and work with other local governments. 

“I think when you take on a topic that is this big and that is this scale … there'll be things that need to be revised. We will see what is working and what is not working,” Nguyen said.

Analysis: Which legislators had the most (and fewest) bills passed in the 2021 session?

Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature during the 2021 session, and hundreds of high-profile Democratic measures sailed through the Assembly and Senate while a vast majority of Republican-backed measures failed to make much headway in the legislative process.

Out of 605 bills introduced and sponsored by a lawmaker this session, Democratic legislators had 63 percent of their bills and resolutions pass out of the Legislature, compared to just 18 percent for Republicans. Those in the majority party were able to pass priority measures, including bills establishing the “Right to Return,” a public health insurance option and permanent expanded mail voting, while many priorities for Republicans, such as a voter ID law, were killed without so much as a hearing.

Which lawmakers had the most success passing their bills? Which lawmakers were least successful? How did Assembly members fare compared to senators?

The Nevada Independent analyzed all bills and resolutions that were both introduced and primarily sponsored by a lawmaker and examined which of those bills passed out of the Legislature and which ones died. Of those 605 bills, 267 (44 percent) were approved by members of the Assembly and Senate, while the remaining 338 (56 percent) were left in the graveyard of the legislative session.

Those 605 measures make up only a portion of the 1,035 bills and resolutions introduced during the session — others were sponsored by committees, constitutional officers such as the secretary of state or governor, or helped implement the state budget. The 2021 session also saw fewer measures introduced than previous sessions, as the 2019 and 2017 sessions each saw closer to 1,200 bills and resolutions introduced.

State law limits the number of bills that can be introduced by any individual lawmaker — incumbent senators and Assembly members can request 20 and 10 bill draft requests, respectively, while newly-elected legislators are limited to six bills in the Assembly and 12 in the Senate. Legislative leadership for both the majority and minority parties are also allowed to introduce additional bills beyond the normal limits.

The analysis revealed that Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) and Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) led their caucuses with the highest rate of bill passage, while Assembly members Jill Tolles (R-Reno) and P.K. O'Neill (R-Carson City) were the only Republicans who had more than half of their bills passed out of the Legislature. Eight Republican legislators ended the session with zero bills passed.

A previous analysis of votes during the 2021 session revealed that most bills passed with bipartisan support, as more than half of all votes included no opposition. But that trend was largely driven by Democrats in the majority passing their priorities while not advancing nearly as many Republican bills, with 175 more Democrat-backed measures passing out of the Legislature than measures introduced by Republicans.

The guide below explores the results of our analysis, examining the successes and failures of both parties and of individual lawmakers this session.

We’ve double-checked our work to make sure we’ve counted every vote and hearing, but if you spot something off or think a bill was missed or improperly noted, feel free to email sgolonka@thenvindy.com.

How did Democrat-sponsored legislation fare? Did any Republican lawmakers find success?

Though hundreds of the more than 1,000 bills and resolutions introduced during the session were sponsored by Democrat-controlled committees, there were only 350 measures specifically sponsored and introduced by a lawmaker from the majority party.

Many were headline-grabbing progressive bills that drew staunch Republican opposition, including expanding permanent mail-in voting (AB321) and setting up Nevada to become one of the first states to have a public health insurance option starting in 2026 (SB420).

Of the 350 bills from Democratic lawmakers, 221 (63.1 percent) passed out of both houses. However, Assembly Democrats fared slightly better than their Senate counterparts, with 65 percent of their bills passing compared with 60 percent for those in the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The success rate of bills introduced by Republican lawmakers was dismal in comparison.

Members of the Assembly Republican caucus had 27 of their 126 introduced measures (21 percent) pass out of both houses, while Senate Republicans had 19 of their 129 (15 percent) pass out of the Legislature. The majority of Republican-backed measures were not even given a chance by the majority party, as 56 percent of 255 bills and resolutions introduced by Republican legislators never received an initial committee hearing.

Failed Republican-backed bills included an effort to create a bipartisan redistricting commission (SB462), a measure requiring voters to provide proof of identity (SB225) and a bill that aimed to limit the number of legislative actions allowed per session (AB98).

Among the 46 Republican-sponsored measures that passed out of the Legislature were a variety of health care-related bills, including legislation from Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) that appropriated state funds to the Nevada Health Service Corps for encouraging certain medical and dental practitioners to practice in underserved areas (SB233). Lawmakers also approved a measure from Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) authorizing the Board of Regents to waive fees for family members of National Guard members who reenlist (AB156).

Senate Minority Leader James A. Settelmeyer, left, and 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)

While Republicans fared far worse, Democratic lawmakers still had more than a third of their bills fall victim to the legislative process.

Some bills were overwhelmed by backlash, such as SB452, a bill that aimed to grant casino resorts greater authority to ban firearms on their premises but was opposed by a broad coalition of Republicans, gun right advocates and criminal justice reform organizations and failed to advance out of the Assembly. 

Other bills were watered down or axed after lawmakers deemed there was not enough time to consider the effects of a measure. Such was the case for AB161, a bill that started as a ban on the state’s “summary eviction” process, then was amended into a legislative study on the process but still never received a floor vote. Some measures fell just shy of the support they needed, including AB387, an attempt to license midwives that fell one vote shy of a two-thirds majority in the Senate on the final day of the session.

Which lawmakers were most prolific? Which lawmakers introduced the fewest bills?

Although Democratic lawmakers significantly outpaced Republican lawmakers in getting their bills passed out of both houses of the Legislature, the number of bills introduced by each legislator remained similar between the two parties.

On average, lawmakers from the majority party introduced 9.2 measures during the 2021 session, compared to 10.2 for lawmakers in the minority party. 

Those who led their parties in introductions were typically house leaders or more experienced lawmakers.

In the Assembly, Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) topped the rest of his party with 18 bills introduced and sponsored, while Minority Floor Leader Titus had the most bills introduced and sponsored of anyone in the Assembly Republican caucus with 14.

Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus speaks to Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson inside the Legislature on Monday, March 15, 2021 in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) introduced and sponsored 25 bills, which was the most of any legislator during the session.

Four other Senators also stood above the pack: Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) led Democrats with 23 introductions, while Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) and two Republican senators, Hardy and Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), rounded out the top with 20 bills each.

Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas), who was appointed by the Clark County Commission on Feb. 2, 2021 to fill the seat of Democratic former Assemblyman Alex Assefa, who resigned amid an investigation into whether he met residency requirements, was the only lawmaker who did not introduce a single piece of legislation this session.

The others at the bottom of the list — Assembly members Elaine Marzola (D-Henderson), Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) and Richard McArthur (R-Las Vegas), and Sens. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas) and Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) — introduced three bills each. Doñate was appointed to fill the seat of former Sen. Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas), and introduced three of her bill draft requests submitted prior to the start of the session.

Which legislators had the most success with their bills?

Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) had more success getting her bills passed than any Nevada lawmaker during the 2021 session, as all eight bills that she introduced and sponsored passed out of both houses of the Legislature.

Jauregui had one bill that was passed only with the support of her own party members in both houses. AB286, which bans so-called “ghost guns” and other firearm assembly kits that don’t come equipped with serial numbers, passed through the Assembly and Senate along party lines. 

Other bills Jauregui introduced included measures focused on the environment and residential properties, as well as AB123, which increases fees on special Vegas Golden Knights license plates to help give more funds to charities.

Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui arrives on the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Five other Assembly Democrats, all based out of Southern Nevada, had at least 80 percent of their measures pass out of both houses, including Assembly Speaker Frierson. Frierson, who saw 15 of his 18 sponsored measures pass, introduced several high-profile Democratic measures, including a pair of big election bills: AB126, which moves the state to a presidential primary system instead of a caucus-based system, and AB321, which permanently expands mail-in voting. 

Other bills introduced by the Assembly leader that passed out of the Legislature included a measure requiring a three-day grace period before landlords can charge late fees for overdue rent (AB308) and a bill allowing college athletes to profit off of their name and likeness (AB254). Frierson was also the primary sponsor of AB484, which authorizes the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) to use $54 million in federal funds to modernize the state’s outdated unemployment insurance system.

Frierson had only three bills that did not pass out of the Legislature, including a controversial measure that would have allowed for the Washoe and Clark County school boards to be partially appointed (AB255).

Other lawmakers to have at least 80 percent of their measures pass out of both houses were Assembly members Venicia Considine (D-Las Vegas), Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) and Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas).

Considine had five of her six introduced measures pass both houses with significant bipartisan support, including a measure that replaces the gendered language for crimes of sexual assault with gender-neutral language (AB214). 

Yeager saw eight of ten introduced bills pass, including AB341, which authorizes the licensing of cannabis consumption lounges, though he also presented several other, sometimes controversial, measures as chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. He presented AB400, a bill that removes “per se” limits on non-felony DUIs involving marijuana and that passed along party lines out of the Assembly. And he presented AB395, the death penalty bill that was scrapped by Democratic lawmakers in the Senate.

Though Monroe-Moreno had four of her five introduced bills pass out of both houses, including a measure that reduces the criminal penalties for minors found in possession of alcohol or small amounts of marijuana (AB158), she was also the sponsor of one of the few measures to fail to advance out of the Legislature because it failed to achieve a needed two-thirds majority. Her bill AB387, which would have established a midwifery licensure board, fell one vote shy of the two-thirds majority in the Senate.

Watts, a second-term assemblyman, sparked a variety of partisan disagreements throughout the session, as six of his ten introduced bills passed out of the Assembly with zero Republican support (Watts had eight bills pass out of both chambers). Those measures ranged broadly from a pair of environment-focused measures to a bill that bans offensive or racially discriminatory language and imagery, names, logos or mascots in Nevada schools (AB88).

In the Senate, only three legislators had more than two-thirds of their introduced measures pass out of both houses: Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) and Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas).

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

Brooks was the most successful of the bunch, getting five of his six introduced bills passed, including 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. With a larger number of introductions (13), Lange had twice as many bills passed as Brooks (10), covering a wide range of topics from health care to employment to a bill permanently authorizing curbside pickup at dispensaries (SB168).

The majority leader also succeeded in passing a higher percentage of her bills than most of her Senate colleagues, as 12 different Cannizzaro-sponsored bills made their way to the governor’s office. Those measures were met with varying degrees of bipartisan support, as a bill requiring data brokers to allow consumers to make requests to not sell their information passed with no opposition (SB260), while a bill barring the suspension of driver’s licenses for the nonpayment of fees received mixed support from Republicans in both chambers (SB219). Another bill, SB420, which enacts a state-managed public health insurance option, passed along party lines in both the Senate and Assembly.

A few Assembly Republicans stood above the pack, as Assembly members Jill Tolles (R-Reno), P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City), Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) and Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) were the only members of their party to have at least half of their bills pass out of both houses.

Tolles, who was more likely to side with Democrats on close votes during the session than any other Republican lawmaker, found the most success of the group, as four of the six bills she introduced and sponsored were sent to the governor. Those bills that passed were met with broad bipartisan support, such as AB374 — that measure, which establishes a statewide working group in the attorney general’s office aimed at preventing and reducing substance use, passed unanimously out of both houses. The third-term legislator did introduce some bills that were killed by Democrats, such as AB248, which sought to allow "partisan observers" to watch over elections at polling places.

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)

Four of O’Neill’s seven bills were sent to the governor. One allows the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum to designate certain buildings and grounds of the former boarding school for Native children for special events and authorizes the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages at such events (AB270). O’Neill was the only Republican present at a bill signing event for Native-focused legislation, after many of those bills passed with bipartisan support.

Half of Krasner and Roberts’ bills passed out of the Legislature, with each lawmaker introducing and sponsoring eight measures during the session.   

Nearly all four of Krasner’s bills that made it out of both chambers attracted unanimous votes, including AB143, which creates a statewide human trafficking task force and a plan for resources and services delivered to victims. Another well-received bill, AB251, seals juvenile criminal records automatically at age 18 and allows offenders to petition the court for the expungement or destruction of their juvenile records for misdemeanors. Both AB143 and AB251 have been signed by the governor.

Roberts, who was among the Republicans most likely to cross party lines and vote contrary to the majority of his caucus, had several bills sent to the governor with strong bipartisan support, including AB319, which establishes a pilot program for high school students to take dual credit courses at the College of Southern Nevada. Another of his four successful bills was AB326, which is aimed at curbing the illicit cannabis market.

Success for Republican senators in passing bills was more rare.

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) had one bill sent to the governor and two bills killed without a hearing, giving him a higher percentage of bills passed (33 percent) than any other member of his caucus. Hansen’s one successful measure, SB112, aligns Nevada law with federal law regarding the administration of certain products for livestock. One of Hansen’s failed bills included an attempt to prohibit police officers from using surveillance devices without a warrant, unless there were pressing circumstances that presented danger to someone’s safety (SB213).

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) was the second most successful member of his caucus in terms of getting bills passed, as three of the 14 measures (21 percent) he introduced passed out of both houses, including a measure establishing an esports advisory committee within the Gaming Control Board (SB165). But many of the measures introduced by Kieckhefer still failed, including a resolution to create an independent redistricting commission to conduct the reapportionment of districts (SJR9).

Only three other members of the Senate Republican caucus, including Minority Leader Settelmeyer, Hardy and Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka), had at least 20 percent of their introduced measures pass fully out of the Legislature.

Which legislators had the least success with their bills?

Despite Democrats controlling both legislative chambers, a handful of Democratic lawmakers still had less than half of their sponsored measures sent off to the governor’s office.

In the Assembly, five members of the Democratic caucus failed to have 50 percent of their bills advance out of both houses, including Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow (D-Las Vegas), who rounded out the bottom of the list as just one of her eight introduced bills passing out of the Legislature. Though that one successful bill — AB189, which establishes presumptive eligibility for pregnant women for Medicaid — garnered bipartisan support, many of Gorelow’s introduced measures failed to even receive an initial committee vote. Those failed bills included multiple more health care-focused measures, including an effort to require certain health plans to cover fertility preservation services (AB274).

The others in the caucus to have more than half of their bills fail were Assembly members Bea Duran (D-Las Vegas), David Orentlicher (D-Las Vegas), Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) and Cecelia Gonzalez (D-Las Vegas), who each had between 33 and 43 percent of their bills passed.

Duran found mixed success with her bills, getting three of her seven introduced measures passed, including a bill that requires all public middle schools, junior high schools and high schools to offer free menstrual products in bathrooms (AB224), but seeing four others fail, including one requiring public schools implement a survey about sexual misconduct (AB353).

One of Orentlicher’s five bills was among a small group that failed to advance at a mid-May deadline for second committee passage. The measure, AB243, would have required courts to consider whether a defendant is younger than 21 when deciding a sentence and failed to clear the deadline after previously passing out of the Assembly along party lines. Orentlicher introduced five bills, but only two passed out of both chambers.

While Flores introduced several measures that received broad unanimous support throughout the session, such as a measure that established a new, simpler Miranda warning for children (AB132), he also proposed several controversial measures that failed to advance out of the Assembly. One of those bills, AB351, would have allowed terminally ill patients to self-administer life-ending medication, and another, AB131, would have required all uniformed police officers to wear body cameras when interacting with the public. Only four of Flores’s ten introduced bills passed out of both legislative chambers.

Assemblymen Edgar Flores, center, and Glen Leavitt, left, speak inside the Legislature on Tuesday, March 9, 2021 in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Gonzalez, a freshman, had four of her six introduced bills die at different times over the course of the session. Two of her bills died without ever being heard. Another bill she introduced (AB151) was never voted on by the Assembly because a Cannizzaro-sponsored bill took almost the same approach in barring the suspension of driver’s licenses for the nonpayment of fees. 

Gonzalez even had one piece of legislation, AB201, fail in its second house. That bill, which would have required more tracking and reporting on use of criminal informants, failed to advance out of a Senate committee after passing out of the Assembly along party lines.

Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) was the only member of his caucus to have more than half of his bills fail. Though seven of his sponsored measures passed out of the Legislature, eleven other bills and resolutions from Ohrenschall failed to advance. Those bills often focused on the criminal justice system, including a measure that aimed to eliminate the death penalty for people who are convicted of first degree murder (SB228), though some stretched beyond that scope, such as an attempt to make Nevada the first state with an opt-out organ donation system (SB134) that failed to be voted out of committee.

Across the Senate and Assembly, eight Republican lawmakers had zero bills pass out of the Legislature. Those eight were Assembly members Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks), Annie Black (R-Mesquite), Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas), Jill Dickman (R-Sparks), Jim Wheeler (R-Minden) and Richard McArthur (R-Las Vegas) and Sens. Carrie Buck (R-Henderson) and Pickard.

All eight of those Republicans were also among the least likely in their party to break from the majority of their caucus and vote with Democrats on legislation.

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

Those eight legislators introduced 70 measures combined, of which 58 died without ever receiving a committee hearing. Pickard was particularly unsuccessful, as he introduced 20 bills, and only one received a committee hearing before failing to advance past the first committee passage deadline in early April. The Henderson-based senator was previously derided by Democratic lawmakers, after backing out of a deal with Senate Democrats centered on a mining tax during one of the 2020 special sessions.

When were bills heard and when did they pass?

Throughout the session, lawmakers often waited until the latest possible days to complete the work needed for certain legislative deadlines.

In the week leading up to the first major deadline — bills and resolutions without an exemption were required to have passed out of their first committee by April 9 — lawmakers voted 336 bills out of committee. In the roughly nine weeks prior to that, only 236 bills were passed out of their first committee.

The other deadlines of the legislative session followed a similar pattern.

In the week leading up to and the week including the first house passage deadline (April 20), 340 bills received a vote in their first house, while just 71 bills were voted out of their first house in the 10 previous weeks.

The busiest week of the session was the week ending May 21, which included the second house passage deadline (May 20). During that week, 337 bills and resolutions were voted out of their second house, while a couple hundred more measures were acted on in some other way, including committee hearings, committee votes and first house votes.

The final shortened weekend of the session, stretching from May 29 through May 31, was also chock-full of legislative action, as lawmakers passed more than 150 bills out of their second house during those three final days.

Indy Explains: What happens now that traffic tickets are decriminalized?

Trooper Brian Eby traffic stop

After years of trying, Nevada lawmakers finally took the step of decriminalizing traffic tickets this session, turning arrestable misdemeanors into civil infractions that don’t lead to jail time. 

But what does the new law, which passed with near-unanimous support as AB116 and was signed into law on June 8, mean for motorists and those who have unresolved traffic tickets or bench warrants now?

Drivers should be aware that the key provisions of the bill do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2023, although some jurisdictions might opt to implement it earlier or prosecutors may decide to treat certain violations as mere civil citations. Although there is a provision in the bill to cancel all bench warrants for minor traffic infractions in 2023, the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), said that people with unpaid traffic tickets should still seek to pay and clear them or risk arrest.

“You still need to take care of it,” said Nguyen, who is a criminal defense attorney. “Change happens slowly.”

The measure does not eliminate the possibility of jail time for all traffic issues. Certain more serious offenses — such as driving under the influence or driving well over the speed limit — can lead to an arrest on the spot or can escalate to a warrant that would make a person liable for an arrest in the future.

Overall, however, Nevada lawmakers made a significant change with the bill that many local jurisdictions will be adjusting to over the next year and a half. It also could have major implications for thousands of Nevadans who could still be arrested at any time because they can’t afford to pay or forgot to deal with a traffic matter.

“I wish I could share with you names, and the numbers of texts and calls and emails that I get from people on a weekly basis, who say ... ‘I'm afraid to go outside, I'm afraid to drive. I'm afraid to go anywhere with my kids, because I'm afraid I might get pulled over and taken to jail, and my kids are in the car,” said Leisa Moseley, who advocated for the bill as state director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “Finally, there is going to be some relief for all of these people.”

Read on for more questions and answers about the change.

Q: Can the police still stop me?

A: Yes. The bill explicitly authorizes police officers who believe someone committed a traffic violation to stop and detain the person in order to investigate the alleged violation, search the person or vehicle, ask to see proof of insurance and issue a citation.

Q: What crimes remain criminal (i.e., a misdemeanor or more serious and subject to jail time) under the new law?

A: The law maintains a more severe penalty structure for many violations, including driving under the influence or having an open container of alcohol in a car. 

Also in the more serious category: 

  • driving more than 30 mph above the speed limit 
  • aggressive driving
  • driving on a sidewalk
  • failing to yield for an emergency vehicle
  • injuring a road construction worker
  • unsafe passing and following too closely 
  • failing to obey the police 
  • failing to stop and render aid after an accident 
  • falsifying documents (such as a driver’s license application), or
  • violating a court order to use an ignition interlock device that prevents driving under the influence.

It is still a misdemeanor to drive with an invalid or fraudulent license, including cases in which a license has been suspended or revoked. It is also still a misdemeanor for people to drive if they have epilepsy and have been informed by a doctor that their condition severely impairs their ability to drive safely.

Q: What crimes have been downgraded to a civil infraction?

A: Matters that are now a civil infraction include: 

  • carrying people in the bed of a truck 
  • driving in a carpool lane with too few passengers 
  • driving slowly and then failing to allow other cars to pass 
  • talking on a cellphone while driving 
  • lower-level speeding 
  • bicycling in a prohibited area 
  • not signaling when turning a bike or not having proper lights and reflectors on a bike
  • tampering with a required pollution control device
  • violating rules about vehicle length and width, and
  • failing to have insurance for an off-highway vehicle.

Q: Am I still required to pay my fine?

A: Yes. The bill requires a person to respond to a civil infraction citation within 90 calendar days after it is issued, either by paying the fine assessed in the citation or by requesting a hearing to contest the citation. The justice or municipal court that has jurisdiction is required to send the person a reminder at least 30 days before the deadline; that reminder can be through a text message if the person who received the citation opted in that communication method.

A person who does not respond within 90 days is considered guilty of the traffic offense, and would be liable to pay the fine and any administrative assessments.

Q: How much can I be fined?

A: The bill sets a maximum penalty of $500 for a traffic-related civil infraction, unless a specific statute calls for a higher fine. 

The bill does authorize a court to waive or reduce fines, though, if the court determines the person is unable to pay, or the court can create a payment plan for a person if the court finds the person doesn’t have the ability to pay at the moment. Courts can also reduce a moving violation to a nonmoving violation, or order a person to attend traffic school or perform community service in lieu of payment.

Q: How do I respond when issued a violation?

A: The bill allows motorists to communicate through electronic means about whether they want to contest a fine or are accepting responsibility to pay it, and also authorizes payments to be made through electronic means, in addition to in person or by mail. 

A reminder that payment is due can also be sent through mail or electronic means such as email.

Q: What happens if I don’t pay my fine?

A: The matter can be sent to a collections agency, and a collections fee can be assessed. For delinquent amounts less than $2,000, the collection fee is capped at $100.

A court also has the authority to garnish a person’s wages or put a lien on property for delinquent fines. The measure also specifies that a court can order the suspension of the person’s driver’s license over non-payment.

Nguyen said it’s not clear exactly how AB116 will work in harmony with another bill the Legislature passed — SB219, from Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, which prohibits courts from suspending a driver’s license for nonpayment of fees.

Q: Who gets the money from the fine?

A:  A fine is paid to the treasurer of the city where the violation occurred, or the county, if the infraction did not take place in an incorporated city.

Q: What other consequences are there for bad driving?

A: The bill still maintains a “point system” that gives demerits for bad driving. The bill directs the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend a person’s driver’s license for one year if they log a sixth civil infraction or traffic offense within five years, as long as all of the offenses are valued at four points or more.

Violations worth four points include running a stop sign, texting while driving and driving between 31 and 40 mph over the speed limit. 

Q: When does the bill become effective?

A: The bill specifies that prosecutors can choose to treat certain offenses that are currently treated as misdemeanors as civil infractions at any time, although DUIs must be treated as the more serious misdemeanor. But generally, the bill’s provisions take effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Q: What if I have an existing bench warrant for unpaid traffic tickets?

A: The bill requires that effective Jan. 1, 2023, every court in the state must cancel outstanding bench warrants issued to people for failing to appear in court to respond to traffic citations that are decriminalized in the bill. It also calls on the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History to remove from its database the records of bench warrants issued for such matters.

Sisolak signs much-debated ‘Right to Return’ legislation into law

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed legislation on Tuesday that guarantees the rights of laid-off gaming and tourism industry workers to return to their jobs.

Sisolak’s signature on SB386, referred to as the “Right to Return” bill, came without any fanfare and was announced alongside a host of other bills that earned the governor’s written seal of approval on Tuesday. Sisolak held signing ceremonies for 10 bills, many of which were related to women’s health and criminal or social justice reform. He also signed 28 other bills, including SB386, into law on Tuesday.

Gaming representatives and the Culinary Union struck a deal on the high-profile worker rights legislation with less than a week left in the 120-day legislative session, agreeing to limit the scope of the bill and exempting certain employee classes including managers and stage performers.

Every vote on SB386 was on a straight party line with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed.

Even the addition of an amendment that exempted small businesses attached to casino resorts from complying with the legislation did not attract Republican votes. The change excused small restaurants and vendors that had 30 or fewer employees prior to the pandemic.

As part of the deal, revisions were made to SB4, a bill from the 2020 special session last summer that included government-imposed health and safety standards meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as expanded liability protections for major casino resorts. The changes relaxed requirements on cleaning, such as wiping down minibars, headboards and decorative items on beds, and changed directives to clean throughout the day to instead call for daily cleaning.

Critics of the legislation raised concerns that the bill in its original form would have made it too easy for former employees to sue. The new law offers recourse through the Labor Commissioner or through the courts, but only after an employee notifies an employer of any alleged violation and waits at least 15 days for resolution of the issue.

The Nevada Resort Association took a neutral position in return for those concessions, though not all casino operators were on board. Some of the casino industry's largest companies, including MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, backed the changes. Opposition arose from Las Vegas locals casino companies.

The Resort Association declined to comment on the bill signing.

In a statement, Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline said passage of the legislation would “protect over 350,000 hospitality workers” in Clark County and Washoe County. 

“At the height of the pandemic 98 percent of Culinary Union members were laid off and currently only 50 percent are back to work,” Argüello-Kline said. “While a majority of unionized hospitality workers already have extended recall protections in their contracts, most hospitality workers protected by the new SB386 Right to Return law are not unionized.”

South Point Casino-Hotel attorney Barry Lieberman said of the final deal that was struck that many of the changes were still “particularly onerous for non-union smaller nonrestricted licensees.”

Lieberman, a long time Nevada gaming attorney and close adviser to South Point owner Michael Gaughan, said several amendments were “a confusing patchwork of vague, burdensome and non-helpful requirements,” and forced employers “to guess at their peril as to what the bill actually requires them to do.” He suggested the changes infringed on an employer’s right to rehire casino workers who have “superior skills” as opposed to other laid-off workers.

Among the bills that received a signing ceremony on Tuesday were SB190, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, which will allow women to obtain birth control at a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit; AB116, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen, which decriminalizes minor traffic violations; and AB404, sponsored by the Assembly Committee on Judiciary, which shields applicants for domestic violence-related temporary or extended protection orders from having to disclose their addresses or contact information in certain circumstances. 

The Tuesday events were the latest in a string of bill-signing ceremonies. On Monday morning, Sisolak visited a North Las Vegas elementary school to sign education-related legislation, including the mining tax bill, AB495, and in the afternoon, he held a separate signing ceremony for two bills (SB222 and SB318) that promote diverse communities.

Legislature live blog: Lawmakers pass bills expanding mail voting, authorizing cannabis lounges, short-term rental taxes

The clock struck midnight, and Nevada lawmakers finally adjourned the 2021 Legislature after a frantic final few hours that saw the passage of major election, budget, tax and other big-ticket bills.

By the end of Monday evening, lawmakers had advanced bills decriminalizing traffic tickets, moving the state to a presidential primary, authorizing cannabis consumption lounges and permanently expanding mail voting. Legislators also approved a major transmission and clean energy bill, approved a new tax structure for short-term rentals and set spending priorities for the state’s coming windfall of $2.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds.

The final hours of the Legislature traditionally see a host of last-minute amendments, compromises and changes to legislation — something already readily apparent on Monday, with lawmakers authorizing nearly $8 million in funding to pay back DMV fees recently declared unconstitutional, and an amendment keeping special tax districts in play for Clark County but without the ability to use them for a potential major league baseball stadium.

The Nevada Independent is covering all the final moves, votes and maneuvers of the 2021 Legislature. Here’s a look at some of the major votes and last-minute developments on the final day of session:

$15 million earmarks on American Rescue Plan funds

One last-minute addition was $15 million in earmarks for federal COVID-19 relief money. An amendment added to SB461 in the Assembly includes:

  • $6 million to the Collaboration Center Foundation for services for people with disabilities. Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) had proposed a bill to support the foundation, but it never got a hearing.
  • $5 million to the state treasurer’s office for the Nevada ABLE Savings Program. The program provides seed money in tax-advantaged accounts for people with disabilities; a bill passed this session to enable the program but did not fund it.
  • $4 million for a statewide program modeled after UNR’s Dean’s Future Scholars Program, which provides mentoring, tutoring and other support for prospective first-generation college students. Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) had a bill that supported first-generation students, but it died. She crossed over and supported a mining tax along with Democrats before the amendment was revealed.

— Michelle Rindels

Requiring public buildings/accommodations to have inclusive single-stall restrooms 

On a 15-6 vote, members of the Senate voted to approve Assemblywoman Sarah Peters’s AB280 — a bill requiring any single-stall restroom in the state to be designated as gender neutral.

The bill, which wouldn’t affect existing bathrooms but would govern future construction, was amended before passage to more narrowly define the types of bathrooms affected by the bill, and removed language allowing for civil litigation if people felt they were denied access to or punished for using a single-stall restroom.

— Riley Snyder

Closing ‘classic car’ loophole

An effort to close the ‘classic car’ loophole by limiting the types of older vehicles exempted from smog checks has passed out of the Senate on a party-line 12-9 vote.

The bill, AB349, is sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) and seeks to fix a loophole created by a 2011 law that redefined a “classic car” to include any vehicle over a certain age that drove less than 5,000 miles. It resulted in a sharp increase in the number of classic cars registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

— Riley Snyder

Permanent expanded mail voting and ballot initiative withdrawals

Nevada will move to permanently expand mail voting and send all active registered voters a mail ballot starting in the 2022 election, after members of the state Senate voted along party-lines to approve AB321 on Sunday evening.

The bill will make Nevada the sixth state to adopt a largely mail voting system, though voters will be allowed to opt out and vote in person if they choose. Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, the legislation has been embraced by Democrats as a way to enshire expanded voter access to elections, but pilloried by Republicans as not having enough safeguards to prevent fraud while making what they say are unnecessary changes to the state election structure.

Though amendments to the bill still need to be agreed to by the Assembly, passage of the bill will largely cement the pandemic-induced temporary election changes used in the 2020 election as a permanent fixture of elections moving forward.

The bill does modify aspects of the rules in place for the 2020 election, including shortening the deadlines for fixing issues with signatures on mail ballots and for when a mail ballot can be counted after Election Day from seven to six days.

It also explicitly authorizes election clerks to use electronic devices in signature verification, require more training on signature verification and adopt a handful of other provisions aimed at beefing up election security measures. 

Prior to the vote in the Senate, however, lawmakers adopted an amendment explicitly authorizing the withdrawal of initiative petitions 90 days prior to an election. That law change is intended to address a lack of clarity in existing law about when a ballot initiative can be withdrawn and is intended to give the Clark County Education Association a chance to pull back two initiatives raising the sales and gaming taxes.

Another amendment, sponsored by Senate Republican Leader James Settelmeyer, sought to require statewide elected offices including the attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and controller to follow the same fundraising blackout rules that members of the Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor are required to follow during legislative sessions. But the amendment failed on a 10-11 vote, with all Democrats save Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) voting against the measure.

The bill appropriates about $12.1 million to the secretary of state’s office over the budget cycle to help with costs of the legislation.

— Riley Snyder

Authorizing cannabis consumption lounges

Senators voted 17-3, with one abstention, to authorize cannabis consumption lounges where people can legally consume marijuana after a similar effort failed in the last session.

AB341, sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), aims to resolve the conundrum that recreational cannabis is legal in Nevada, but consumers are technically not allowed to partake of it anywhere outside of a private residence. It also has been framed as a way to diversify the ownership of Nevada’s relatively homogenous cannabis industry by offering certain incentives to applicants who were adversely affected by the War on Drugs.

Before passing the measure, senators added an amendment that allows local governments to establish rules for the businesses that are stricter than the statewide regulations.

Republican Sen. Ira Hansen and two Democrats — Sen. Dina Neal and Sen. Fabian Donate — voted against the measure. Donate said that while he supports the concept, he had public health-related concerns including about how employees would be protected from secondhand smoke.

Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) abstained because his wife is a member of the Cannabis Compliance Board.

— Michelle Rindels

Taxing and regulating short-term rentals

Senators voted 15-6 for a bill from Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) that subjects short-term rentals such as Airbnb to the taxes that hotels face and other regulations.

Opponents of AB363 were all Republicans, including Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), who said that while he wants to combat the nuisance of illicit “party houses,” he thinks land use planning “is fundamentally a local issue.”

“I certainly understand the impetus to do this,” Pickard said. “The reason, however, that I can't go far enough to support this bill is because I believe that it's an intrusion into the proper operation of local government.”

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) has pointed to taxation of vacation rentals as a route for bringing more revenue to schools.

— Michelle Rindels

Bill removing citizenship requirement for higher education scholarships revived

An amendment added to a bill sponsored by Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) during an Assembly Ways and Means Committee meeting Monday evening proved that nothing is truly dead until the clock strikes midnight on sine die.

The amendment, attached to SB347, revives AB213, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) that died before it received a vote on the Assembly floor because of a concern over a 5 percent allocation from a grant program for creating an alternative to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 28-14 vote.

Flores told The Nevada Independent during a short interview that the proposed amendment removed the 5 percent allocation, stipulating instead that an alternative to the FAFSA program could be established as money is available.

"I'm excited that we at least have accomplished the step of getting it to the floor," Flores said. "The bill is sending a very clear message that regardless of status, so long as you graduate you're going to get in-state tuition."

The amendment would remove de facto citizenship requirements for higher education scholarship programs and secure access to in-state tuition for any graduate of a Nevada high school.

It also addresses other higher education inequities by:

  • Removing the requirement to complete the FAFSA, which requires a Social Security number, in order to receive a Silver State Opportunity Grant (a state-support financial aid program for low-income students attending community or state colleges within the Nevada System of Higher Education)
  • Guaranteeing that any graduate from a high school in the state can receive a Silver State Opportunity Grant or a Nevada Promise Scholarship (a scholarship for Nevada high school graduates attending community college)
  • Eliminating a rule that the Board of Regents must distribute scholarships first to students who complete the FAFSA
  • Prohibiting a prepaid tuition program or college savings program from excluding a person or his or her family from participating in the program based solely on immigration status.

Access is at the heart of the amendment, Flores said, adding that the measure will lower barriers to higher education and address fears brought about by the college application process and having to share information regarding immigration status.

“An undocumented student has these added layers to be able to pay for college that ... a lot of other students don't have to go through,” Flores said. “So that it's often a deterrent for a lot of very highly talented,qualified students.”

— Tabitha Mueller

Deportation defense funds

A bill that will allocate half a million to the UNLV Immigration Clinic’s work defending people against deportation got a party-line vote in the Senate, with Republicans opposed.

AB376, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), would create a “Keeping Nevada Working Task Force” to support immigrant entrepreneurship as well as making the appropriation.

But Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) said he opposed a provision that requires the attorney general to develop model policies that seek to limit the collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. Agencies must report back whether they adopt the policies.

“The standards that are to be developed by the attorney general and then imposed upon ... all other areas of the state, I think, are inappropriate,” he said.

The bill was significantly watered down from its original form, which directly called for limiting collaboration between police and federal immigration enforcement officials.

— Michelle Rindels

Transmission build-out, electric vehicle charging infrastructure bill passes

State lawmakers advanced the Legislature’s marquee clean energy bill, SB448, on a 32-10 vote on Monday.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), will clear the way for completion of a major intrastate transmission line sought by NV Energy as part of the utility company’s planned $2 billion transmission infrastructure upgrade project. It will also require the utility to invest $100 million in electric vehicle charging stations, and makes a host of other energy policy changes aimed at boosting carbon reduction efforts in the state.

The measure previously passed unanimously out of the Senate. 

— Riley Snyder

Minimum energy efficiency levels for appliances

Members of the Senate passed out an energy efficiency measure, AB383, on a party-line vote on Monday.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), sets minimum energy efficiency levels for certain residential and commercial appliances and products, ranging from water coolers and air purifiers, to commercial fryers and ovens.

During a bill hearing in April, Watts said that less energy expended would result in less pollution and that using more efficient appliances and devices could also mean lower utility bills. The standards set in the bill would not apply to appliances sold after the bills goes into effect until July 2023, giving manufacturers time to adjust to the new regulations.

Previously, the bill passed out of the Assembly on a 26-13 party-line vote, with Republicans in opposition.

— Tabitha Mueller

Overhauling interim legislative structure

Members of the Senate voted 18-3 to approve a bill from Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) overhauling the interim structure of the Legislature to match the committee structure used during 120-day sessions.

Rather than the current slew of more than a dozen interim committees, AB448 would repeal and replace almost all of them with interim joint standing committees, a change aimed at increasing continuity and policy expertise between legislative sessions.

Not all of the old interim committees are going away — the bill was amended on Friday, shortly before passing out of the Assembly, to revive an existing Legislative Committee on Public Lands to now serve under a joint interim subcommittee on natural resources.

— Riley Snyder

Fifth time’s the charm to decriminalize traffic tickets 

After four failed attempts in prior sessions, AB116, a bill decriminalizing traffic tickets, cleared the Legislature with a 20-1 vote in the Senate. 

The bill would make traffic violations civil infractions and not punishable by jail time. It adjusts current practice where, if unpaid, minor traffic offenses become warrants that can lead to arrests and are punishable by up to six months in jail. 

Although Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said he is in support of the policy behind the bill, he was the only senator to vote against the measure for certain concerns regarding rural counties’ ability to implement it. 

“This is the fifth session that I can think of where we've attempted to do this, so it's definitely a step in the right direction,” Hansen said. “But we need to keep in mind there's some very small counties with very limited budgets and for them to be able to implement this is going to be very, very difficult.”

— Jannelle Calderon

Nevada joins and leapfrogs primary states

The Senate voted 15-6 to pass AB126, which would end Nevada’s presidential caucus and replace it with a primary election, and also aims to make the state first in the presidential primary calendar — ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), who voted against the measure, had introduced a similar bill, SB130, this session to convert Nevada from caucus to primary but it died in April. During the Senate vote on Monday, Pickard said that as he was preparing his bill, constituents said that they would not be happy with moving the primary to the beginning of the year as campaigning efforts during December holidays may be “intrusive.”

“I was told pretty consistently by my constituents that they did not like the idea of moving the primary up to the beginning of the year because it meant that we'd be campaigning, we'd be knocking on their doors and we'd be disturbing them during the holidays,” he said. 

Six of the nine Republican senators voted against the bill, which had previously received a 30-11 vote in the Assembly.

— Jannelle Calderon

Allocating federal COVID aid

With time up in the session, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Monday advanced SB461, a so-called “waterfall” bill that sets priorities for spending billions in American Rescue Plan funds. 

Many of those goals — which include backfilling the general fund to compensate for revenue loss and shoring up health care and education — were laid out months ago in a framework document released by the governor and legislative leadership.

“It's day 120, those dollars are not here, but we still know that we have priorities in the state that we want to make sure that can be addressed and that the legislature doesn't slow the process down,” said Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas). “We don't necessarily need to come back and come together for a day or two to do, that there is a process by which we can set this up to set our priorities to allow these dollars to hit the ground running as soon as they're here.”

Carlton’s comments suggest at least some of the work of distributing the federal dollars will take place through work programs that come through the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, as opposed to a special session.

“It doesn't mean we have to do it that way. Nothing stops us from coming in and doing a special session,” she said in a subsequent interview. “But ... getting 63 of us together and queuing up this building is not a small feat ... so this is just a way to make sure that those issues are dealt with.”

In the meantime, the bill allocates $335 million of the state’s $2.7 billion allocation through the American Rescue Plan to the unemployment trust fund. That was depleted after the pandemic-related shutdowns pushed Nevada’s unemployment rate to around 30 percent.

The amount will bring the trust fund essentially to the point where it is not taking out a loan, fiscal analysts said. Following the Great Recession, employers had to pay higher tax rates for years to pay back a debt to the federal government; the allotment will ensure tax rates won’t be going up for debt service.

“This will be one of the small things that we can do to not have that one more thing added on to that bill, as everyone is trying to climb out of the pandemic and get back to square one in the future,” Carlton said. “This will be one way to lessen those impacts of the pandemic on everyone who pays into this month.”

The Treasury allows states to use American Rescue Plan money to pay back their unemployment trust funds back to pre-pandemic levels, but Nevada’s trust fund was nearly $2 billion before the pandemic — meaning the state could potentially use nearly all of its federal allocation for that purpose.

But, Carlton said, “this is a balancing act and there was a lot of harm done across the state and all different sectors and we're trying to make an impact on all of the different sectors.”

— Michelle Rindels

DMV repayment

A feisty debate about how to repay $1-per-transaction DMV technology fees that were found to be enacted unconstitutionally has finally been resolved in the form of an amendment to another bill.

Members of the Ways and Means Committee over the weekend sparred over whether allocating $7.8 million to pay back $5 million in fees to Nevada motorists needed to be done immediately or could wait until something more cost-efficient could be worked out. Lawmakers are seeking to refund the money after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that an extension of the fee in 2019 needed to be passed on a two-thirds majority (it was one vote shy of that threshold).

They opted to add an amendment with the allocation to SB457, a bill that otherwise allows more of the state Highway Fund to be used for administrative costs and has now passed both houses.

“Last night, with time constraints and with the people digging their heels in on stuff it was like, ‘we can't wait, we have to pay for this,’” Carlton said. “This is not a political discussion. You can't make hay out of this anymore. We just need to move on and get our jobs done.”

— Michelle Rindels

Clark County gets STAR bonds exemption; A’s stadium talks nearly derail

An effort to finally phase out oft-criticized special tax districts that use a portion of sales tax for bond repayments received a last minute amendment sought by Southern Nevada governments — though lawmakers took steps to ensure that they can’t be used for a potential major league baseball stadium.

AB368, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), would require the Department of Taxation to report information on existing Tourism Improvement Districts — geographical areas where a public-private partnership is created using a portion of sales tax dollars to help finance construction and bond payments.

Those agreements, financed through Sales Tax Anticipation Revenue (STAR) bonds, were used in the mid-2000s to help finance construction of several Northern Nevada developments including Cabela's and Outlets at Legends — agreements later criticized, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal, for not building in enough accountability measures into the projects.

Benitez-Thompson — who said her mother was laid off by the City of Reno after the municipality was forced to use general fund dollars to make bond payments on a STAR bonds project — submitted a conceptual amendment to the bill phasing out all language for STAR Bond tax financing, in effect sunsetting the program.

But that raised concerns from representatives of Southern Nevada local governments, who on Monday morning held an unusual back-and-forth with the six members of the conference committee on a request to exempt Clark County from the bill. Conference committees are appointed when the Assembly and Senate disagree over an amendment, but often are also used to push last-minute changes to legislation on the final day of the session.

Lobbyist Warren Hardy, representing a consortium of Southern Nevada governments, said there was interest in allowing STAR Bonds and tourism improvement districts as a potential “tool in the toolbox” for developers — including potentially the Oakland A’s, who have publicly floated moving the professional baseball team to Las Vegas.

But the idea of using STAR Bonds for a stadium rankled lawmakers on the conference committee.

“I’ve been very clear on how these things need to be done … if we’re going to do Huntridge (Theater), small nonprofit, things along that line, I think that’s where these funds really could possibly work,” Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said. “But if we’re talking about a stadium and trying to pay for that, I have a lot of concerns about moving forward at that level.”

After a small amount of debate, the conference committee (with the implicit blessing of Southern Nevada lobbyists) agreed to move forward on the bill with an amendment only allowing STAR Bonds to be extended in Clark County, and striking existing language that allows the bond proceeds to help pay for a professional sports stadium.

— Riley Snyder

Bills promoting worksharing, college sexual misconduct study and unsupervised play fail at deadline

Although the demise of a bill to abolish the death penalty attracted widespread attention, another 18 bills met their fate in the Legislature at a Friday deadline for second committee passage.

Those included criminal justice reform measures that would have barred police from using deadly force if a subject appeared only to be a harm to themselves, a bill that would have created a treatment program option for people charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and another that would have promoted race-blind charging among prosecutors.

Other ideas — such as a bill relaxing rules around children playing without parent supervision, and one creating a “worksharing” program as an alternative to layoffs — also hit a wall after  passing in their house of origin.

The next major legislative deadline comes Friday, when most bills not exempted from legislative rules have to pass out of their second chamber.

Below is a rundown of the bills that failed to move forward.

AB17: Sponsored by the state’s Division of Parole and Probation, this bill would have eliminated the distinction between an honorable and dishonorable discharge from parole or probation. It passed out of the Assembly on a party-line 26-16 vote, and was heard in the Senate Judiciary committee on April 27, but never came up for a vote before the deadline. It was opposed by the state district attorneys association.

AB129: This campaign finance transparency measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas), would have required political action committees in the state to report their cash on hand totals when filing contribution and expenditure reports, similar to the requirement for political candidates. The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly, but never received a hearing in the Senate.

AB160: Sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), this bill would have required courts to allow credit for time served in confinement prior to a criminal conviction. The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 33-9 vote, but never received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary committee prior to the deadline.

AB180: A bill aimed at expanding supplemental policies attached to Medicare for people with disabilities failed to advance past the deadline after never receiving a hearing in the Senate Commerce and Labor committee. The measure was sponsored by Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks) and passed out of the Assembly on a 40-2 vote.

AB201: Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Cecelia Gonzalez (D-Las Vegas) that aimed to require more tracking and reporting on use of criminal informants failed to advance out of committee by deadline. The bill, which was approved on a party-line 26-16 vote in the Assembly, was heard in the Senate on May 13 and was scheduled for a committee vote on Friday, but was pulled and never voted on.

AB209: Cats may have nine lives, but this bill from Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas) banning the practice of declawing a cat only had one life, which was snuffed out Friday without ever receiving a hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. It previously passed out of the Assembly on a 28-14.

AB243: A bill that would have required courts to consider whether a defendant is younger than 21 when deciding a sentence failed to clear the deadline. The bill, whose primary sponsor was Assemblyman David Orentlicher (D-Las Vegas) would also authorize prosecutors to establish a system of race-blind charging when considering criminal charges or allegations of criminal delinquency against a child. The bill passed on party lines in the Assembly, with all Republicans opposed.

AB268: The Senate failed to advance a measure that would have required law enforcement agencies to post their use of force policies on their websites. It also would have prohibited police from using deadly force against a person solely based on the premise that the person is a danger to themselves, and if a reasonable peace officer would not consider that the person poses an imminent threat of death or serious harm to the officer or another person. The bill, whose lead sponsor was Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno), also had Democratic co-sponsors and passed unanimously out of the Assembly.

AB313: This bill would have adjusted the law for removing people from the executive board of a homeowners association, including allowing people voting by secret ballot to do so electronically. It was sponsored by Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks) and passed in a 40-2 vote, with two Democrats against.

AB339: A bill allowing justice courts to create treatment programs for people convicted of misdemeanor battery that constitutes domestic violence did not survive a deadline. The measure would also have required a court to seal the record of a defendant who successfully completes the program, if it is at least seven years after the charge is conditionally dismissed. The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), passed the Assembly with just one lawmaker opposed. 

AB367: Nevada students will not see requirements for “disciplinary skills” in their American government instruction after this bill died. The measure sought to cultivate skills that help students discern the reliability of any given source, and was supported by the Clark County Education Association, which said it would help students tell the difference between information and misinformation. The bill passed with just two Democrats in the Assembly opposed.

AB384: This bill would have authorized a survey on sexual misconduct for students in the Nevada System of Higher Education and would have shaped a process for responding to reports of misconduct. It also would have required an annual report from the system on certain information about sexual misconduct. Sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), the bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly.

AB395: This bill would have abolished the death penalty. Although it passed out of the Assembly on a party-line vote with Republicans opposed, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the day before the deadline that the bill had no path forward in the Senate. 

SB90: Members of the Assembly did not vote on this bill, which would have used different language to describe investigations of health care providers that turn out to be unsubstantiated. Rather than calling the regulatory probe an “investigation,” it would refer to it as a “review and evaluation” for purposes of employment, professional licensure or liability insurance. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), passed unanimously in the Senate.

SB123: This bill would have relaxed the requirements for joining the Silver Haired Legislative Forum, which acts on issues of importance to seniors. It would have allowed people to be appointed to the forum as long as they had lived in Nevada for six months — down from five years — and would have reduced the residency requirement in the appointee’s senatorial district from three years to 30 days. 

SB143: This so-called “Let Grow” bill with bipartisan sponsorship failed to clear Friday’s deadline. It would have spelled out that people aren’t abusing or neglecting a child just because they allow a child to do independent activities. It also explicitly stated that minorities and children living in poverty are disproportionately subject to intervention about their child-rearing practices and deserve equality under the law. Co-sponsored by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks), the bill passed unanimously out of the Senate.

SB218: Landlords would be required to disclose extra fees on the front page of a lease agreement, would not be allowed to assess late fees until three days after rent is due and would only be able to charge one prospective tenant at a time a fee for a rental application. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) passed the Senate on a 12-9 vote, with all Republicans opposed.

SB308: Assembly members did not vote on this bill, which would have required the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) to create a worksharing program through which employers could opt to reduce the hours of a group of employees instead of laying them off, and DETR would provide partial unemployment benefits to those workers. The measure, backed by Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas), passed the Senate in a 13-8 vote, with most Republicans opposed.

SB381: This bill, which aimed to modify and expand definitions in law around “service contracts” — defined as contracts where a provider agrees to repair, replace or perform maintenance on goods over a certain period of time — failed to advance out of the Assembly after passing unanimously in the Senate.

$2 million price tag divides correctional officials and lawmakers over bill enrolling released prisoners in Medicaid

Guards walk inside High Desert State Prison as seen on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019.

Lawmakers and correctional officials ended up at odds last week over a fiscal note attached to a measure aimed at enrolling soon-to-be released prisoners in the state Medicaid program.

AB358, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), would in theory help alleviate medical expenses that the Nevada Department of Corrections currently covers with general fund dollars by signing up eligible members for Medicaid before release, Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen said as she presented the bill Tuesday during an Assembly Ways and Means Committee meeting. 

"Instead of us paying for 30 days cash of people's medical [expenses], they would be covered under Medicaid," Nguyen said. "It would also help with the continuity of care because they would be set up, they would have providers that we would be able to work with ... and have that kind of continuity of care that is required for them to be successful once they are released."

But a fiscal note submitted by the Department of Corrections that estimated the program's cost as close to $2 million over the next two years ground the discussion to a halt. 

NDOC Statewide Reentry Administrator Elizabeth Dixon-Coleman said that the state releases about 6,000 prison inmates annually, and that the state prison system needed the money to pay for increased personnel, operating systems and equipment expenses necessary to establish a program that will process roughly 460 Medicaid applications a month.

"We do not have an electronic processing component to this. We don't have the infrastructure nor the supporting abilities to do this," Dixon-Coleman said.

Budget committee Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) pushed back against the addition of the fiscal note, saying the state’s existing Medicaid program should be able to address any cost concerns.

"Medicaid does eligibility. That is their life. That is what they do. It seems to me as though we're recreating the wheel here in creating program officers to do eligibility when Medicaid currently does eligibility," Carlton said. "Is there a way within the Medicaid regime to allow these inmates to access that in a safe and secure way ... and take NDOC out of the middle for a portion of this and have Medicaid do the thing that they do so well?"

The NDOC and Division of Welfare and Supportive Services have created a pilot project to test out the eligibility process, division chief of programs operations Joe Garcia told the committee. Though the division has considered shortening the roughly 20-page paper application and has a call center that can take applications over the phone, there could be security issues with inmates applying for Medicaid over the phone, he said.

Frierson said similar programs without attached costs exist, including at the Clark County Detention Center. He added that inmates have to speak with their attorneys via phones, and that does not violate confidentiality laws.

"There are phones. It's not like they're sending homing pigeons out. They have to be able to talk to their attorneys, and they have to be able to do it in private," Frierson said. "This would seem to me to be an opportunity to defray costs of medical expenses as folks are transitioning out. And I'm just a little surprised at the reluctance, especially recognizing that there have been efforts to address this for some time now."

Though Dixon-Coleman cited concerns about HIPPA and security issues, Carlton said that she would have more worries around paper documentation and security than a phone call. Officials with the NDOC need to investigate other options and take Frierson's comment about a secure line and confidentiality to heart, she added.

"There's a little bit more work to be done on this. We'll follow up with the appropriate folks and see where we can go. And I'm sure you'll follow up with them also," Carlton said.

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.

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.

Advocates say taxing, regulating companies such as Airbnb could raise millions in taxes; opponents say it could hamper industry

State lawmakers believe they can unlock millions of dollars in untapped tax revenue by regulating and taxing short term rentals facilitated by companies such as Airbnb at the same rate as hotels — though opponents warned that legislative overreach could lead to the industry driven out of the state.

AB363, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) and heard Thursday in the Assembly Revenue Committee, would establish requirements, rules, enforcement mechanisms and tax collection methods for short-term rentals brokered by companies such as Airbnb, Vrbo and other third-party services that rent out rooms, apartments and homes for a short period of time.

The bill attracted a broad swath of supporters, including the Nevada Resort Association, Culinary Workers Union, real estate agents associations and progressive groups, who identified lack of short-term rental regulation as part of the reason for uncontrollable party houses, a dearth of affordable housing and a siphoning of guests away from already established resorts and hotels.

Opponents of the bill, however, warned that the regulations would decrease tourism revenue, reduce growth of the state’s short term rental market and infringe on individual property rights — representatives from Airbnb wrote in a letter that the original draft of the bill “would essentially ban any meaningful short-term rental activity.”

For her part, Nguyen said she didn’t believe that outright bans on short-term rentals was the right policy solution, but that lawmakers needed to have some oversight over the industry.

“Right now, I suggest you look at your app for Airbnb, or HomeAway, or Vrbo or any of the other types of apps, and you will see hundreds, if not thousands of listings, most of them operating unlawfully,” she said, referring to the official (but rarely enforced) ban on short-term rentals in unincorporated Clark County. “We are not collecting those taxes, we are not collecting that revenue, and so I believe that there does need to be parity in this situation.”

The bill would require cities or counties to include short-term residential spaces in the definition of “transient lodging” — meaning they’d be subject to the same taxes that hotels charge guests. It also would create a process requiring anyone renting out a room or space to submit an application for a permit, pay an annual fee to maintain that permit, designate a local representative for the rental and maintain liability coverage for their unit.

The measure could have some substantial tax benefits for both the state and local governments — Airbnb alone estimated in a letter opposing the bill that it could have collected and remitted up to $14.5 million in hotel room taxes on behalf of hosts in 2019. Taxing short-term rentals was also mentioned by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson as one of the potential funding solutions to meet recent recommendations by the Commission on School Funding to bump per-pupil spending up to the national average.

Nguyen described the measure as a “dynamic working document” — noting that by her count, she had held roughly 72 meetings, phone calls and video conferences with individuals and interest groups on the measure ahead of the hearing on Thursday, and expected even more changes to come in the enforcement aspects of the bill. 

“Is it going to be a perfect bill?” she said. “No, no bill exists, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.”

The bill, plus a conceptual amendment presented to committee members on Thursday, included these provisions:

  • Set a minimum stay of two nights for any short-term rentals, excluding owner-occupied properties
  • Limit occupancy for short-term rentals to 16 people with four occupants for the first bedroom and two additional people for every other bedroom in the house
  • Establish a minimum distance of 500 feet between any short-term rentals, except for units within a multi-family dwelling
  • Implement a separation of 2,500 feet between the property line of a resort hotel and a short-term rental that is a single-family residence
  • Cap the percentage of allowed short-term rentals in a multi-family dwelling at 25 percent 
  • Prohibit short-term rental owners from holding more than five permits
  • Require short-term rental owners to have a designated local representative who is responsible for the rental and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to any issues.

The conceptual amendment would also grandfather in any pre-existing approved short-term rentals from the provisions of the bill, and only would apply to a county with a population greater than 700,000 — meaning it would only apply to Clark County.

Local governments would have the authority to suspend a permit or impose fines or penalties if someone violates the ordinance, but could not enact an outright ban on short-term residential rentals. The bill also requires individuals or entities renting out a space in a residential unit to pay taxes to the county or city as applicable.

Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) said he planned to-cosponsor the bill, and that another enforcement-focused amendment would be coming aimed at giving police and code enforcement departments more tools to go after non-compliant rentals.

“I know from my law enforcement time that (short-term rentals) and the bans that we have in Clark County provide a number of issues for neighborhoods throughout the valley, and our police officers don't have the tools necessary to police those, neither do code enforcement,” he said.

This isn’t the first time state lawmakers have tried to tackle the issue of regulating short-term rentals — legislators in 2017 approved a bill, AB321, authorizing local governments to adopt ordinance requiring short-term rental platforms to submit quarterly activity reports, including revenue from unit rentals.

However, that bill did not address the current patchwork network of short-term rental regulation found throughout the state — only three counties (Clark, Washoe and Douglas) and a handful of cities have adopted formal policies on short-term rentals. The policies range from total bans (unincorporated Clark County) to only owner-occupied homes (City of Las Vegas) to requirements that each unit have a landline telephone (City of Mesquite).

Airbnb lobbyist Adam Thongsavat said that while the company thought the conceptual amendment offered a fair and balanced approach, it still had major concerns that a buffer around gaming establishments, distance requirements between short term rentals and a two-night minimum would not help Nevada’s tourism economy recover.

“Now is the time to help draw visitors to Nevada in a safe and healthy manner,” Thongsavat said. 

Other opponents held that the legislation does not go far enough — Incline Village resident Ronda Tycer, a chair-person of the city’s short-term rental citizen advisory group, said she opposed the county population cap (Washoe County, which includes Incline Village, adopted its own short term rental policy in March).

“The current Washoe County ordinance does not protect our neighborhoods, or our community at Lake Tahoe,” Tycer said. “After two years of pleading with the county, we still have no limits on numbers or locations of [short-term rentals] throughout our Lake Tahoe Community.”

Numerous Airbnb hosts also called in to oppose the legislation, citing fears about loss of income and noting that their short-term rentals do not disturb the peace or affect neighbors.

“My home is not loud or disruptive to my neighbors. If it was I wouldn't have been able to do this business successfully for four years,” Las Vegas resident and Airbnb host Melissa Cassidy said. “There are all kinds of travelers. Let’s keep up with the world and provide them all kinds of options in Vegas. I miss hosting. I miss my guests. I urge you to make Airbnbs legal, but without the proposed arbitrary distance restrictions.”

However, supporters praised the additional regulations for ensuring a “level-playing field” for hotels and gaming industries.

“[AB363] protects residential neighborhoods, communities, and affordable housing, and fairly requires [short-term rentals] to pay the transient lodging tax, just like our resort hotels do,” Boyd Gaming lobbyist Russell Rowe said.

Jim Sullivan, a lobbyist for the Culinary Union, said additional restrictions on short-term rentals were needed to deal with the state’s constant lack of affordable housing; short-term rentals are often blamed for contributing to housing shortages as investors purchase properties without the intent of renting them out long term. He said workers on the Strip with variable work shifts also complain about the prevalence of rented party homes.

“Workers have complained of party houses that keep them and their neighbors up at night, and have turned their neighborhoods into unruly, unofficial resort quarters,” he said.

Local governments not affected by the bill expressed gratitude for the conceptual amendment, but Wesley Harper, executive director of the Nevada League of Cities, opposed the burden the bill places on smaller jurisdictions in Clark County with limited finances or manpower.

“We hope that the committee views this bill with scrutiny and respects the purview of local governments to properly govern according to the direct and unique needs of our residents,” Harper said. 

Lawmakers took no immediate action on the bill, which has been exempted from legislative deadlines. Nguyen said she’ll continue to work on issues brought up by bill opponents, but reiterated that lawmakers likely needed to do something on the issue this session. 

“I do think that this is a step in the right direction,” Nguyen said. “The genie is out of the bottle and we need to address it head on.”