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.”

Former DETR head opens up about the threats she received during hearing on anti-doxxing bill

Heather Korbulic helmed the state’s Department Employment, Training and Rehabilitation during some of the pandemic’s darkest days last spring.

Thousands of Nevadans, who were thrust essentially overnight onto the state’s overwhelmed unemployment system as Nevada shuttered its economy in the early days of the pandemic, called Korbulic directly, desperate for relief as they struggled to navigate the claims system. Those Nevadans, she said, shared “equally compelling stories of desperation and fear.”

A small percentage, however, targeted their frustrations directly at Korbulic, and an even smaller percentage of those decided to “harass or threaten” her “with, at the very least, intent to scare” her, Korbulic told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday during a hearing on AB296, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) that would create civil penalties for people who post people’s personal identifying or sensitive information online with the intent that that information be used for an unlawful purpose, otherwise known as doxxing. 

It was the first time Korbulic — who left DETR in June — has spoken publicly about the personal toll of the threats she received.

“I'm here today doing something I didn't want to do because I really believe in what Assemblywoman Nguyen is putting forward in Assembly Bill 296,” Korbulic said. “No one under any circumstance should be made to feel the way that my family and I felt when people were using my personally identifiable information to threaten and harass me.”

The bill would hold people liable for sharing such information if it causes death, bodily injury, stalking or mental anguish of the person or a close relation of the person whose information was shared, or would cause a “reasonable person” to feel mental anguish or fear any those consequences.

After the first legitimate threat to Korbulic’s safety, a law enforcement officer spent the night parked in front of her house while her husband and children were out of town. When neighbors asked her what was happening, she told them about the threat and asked them to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity.

“I went inside and I called my husband and I sobbed and I told him I was done because I couldn’t live like this,” Korbulic testified through tears. “He told me that I was stronger than the people who were threatening me and that he would cut short his trip and come home and install a security system.”

When her family came home, the kids were banned from playing in the front yard unsupervised because Korbulic was afraid that someone would kidnap them. The fear, she said, confused her children, who were angry with her over the new rule.

A few weeks later, in the middle of a meeting with lawmakers, someone posted Korbulic’s personal cell phone number on Facebook. She said that within a matter of minutes, she had more than 100 calls, and her voicemail box filled up with “hateful messages.” The calls were coming in so quickly she couldn’t even get through to Verizon to change her number.

“I sat down and I wept at my desk and I decided that I could no longer tolerate putting my family in this position and that I could not and would not live in fear for simply trying to do my job,” Korbulic said.

In June, Korbulic stepped down from the position, over what was described at the time generally as “threats to her personal safety” and returned to her previous job as executive director of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange. She is currently serving as a policy advisor to Gov. Steve Sisolak.

During the Monday hearing, there was some discussion over a section of the bill exempting the sharing of information “which depicts a law enforcement officer acting under the color of law or a public officer acting in an official capacity” from punishment. Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) voiced a concern that the language would mean the people who threatened Korbulic would not be subject to penalties under the bill, and that the legislation could even invite people to dox police officers.

Lobbyists for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association testified against the bill for that very reason, arguing that it unnecessarily exempts officers from protection. (Metro lobbyist Chuck Callaway also suggested that criminal penalties for doxxing, which were included in an earlier draft of the bill but were amended out, be left in.)

Bill proponents and legislative counsel, however, clarified that the bill would apply to a public official or police officer who is at home, after hours and being harassed. Legal counsel added that existing law currently prohibits the sharing of law enforcement officers’ home addresses or personal information that is confidential by statute.

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.

Major rollback of bill curbing police collaboration with immigration officials; other bills die at deadline

A bill that initially proposed barring much of the collaboration between federal immigration authorities and local law enforcement has survived a deadline but in a heavily watered down form, illustrating how politically dicey the issue has been even for Democratic lawmakers in session after session.

AB376, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), was rid of language that draws a bright line between immigration enforcement and local police in the name of rebuilding trust between police and immigrant communities. What remains is a proposed Keep Nevada Working Task Force charged with finding ways to strengthen the immigrant workforce, a call for the attorney general to develop model policies on immigration issues and half a million dollars to support deportation defense through UNLV’s Boyd School of Law.

“I think that we've got some really good work out of the amendments that we made on the legislation,” Torres said in a brief interview on Tuesday. Asked if she was disappointed about losing other provisions, she added “I think we're in a good spot.” 

Erika Castro, organizing director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the provisions that have been watered down are the ones she and other immigrant advocates were excited about, adding that their priority now is to maintain what’s left of the bill in the Senate.

“And that Governor Sisolak actually signs it into law,” she added. 

The bill’s transformation was one of the more dramatic ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for bills to pass out of their first house. Four bills died, and more than a dozen  — including AB376 — were re-referred to money committees, where it’s possible a lack of money to implement them could seal their fate.

Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), who is listed as the sponsor of the primary amendment excising the bill’s most controversial provisions, said the proposal to send half a million dollars to the UNLV Immigration Clinic was aimed to “help our helpers who are out there in the trenches.” She said the clinic reported being unable to meet the demand for pro bono legal services for unaccompanied children and others facing deportation.

“If they feel like they're being detained illegally, they feel like they're being harassed, they have a place to go and get help,” she said. “And so ultimately, this was our solution about how we make the system more fair, more just for them.”

As in Washington D.C., where Congress has repeatedly failed to accomplish comprehensive immigration reform and where the issue is sometimes described as a “third rail” too controversial to meaningfully address, immigration policy has been an albatross in at least the last three Democrat-controlled sessions in Carson City.

The decades-long lack of reform, despite which political party is in power, continues to erode trust and hope among immigrants, said Castro. Some Nevada immigrants expressed a sense of optimism when President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year, but skepticism remains. 

“We've been waiting for a form of relief at a federal lever level for over 30 years now,” said Castro, who is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “We really need our elected officials to keep their promises that they made on the campaign trail, now that they're actually in office and have the power to be able to do something.”

In 2017, a bill to bar cooperation between law enforcement and local police died without a hearing after quickly being branded a “sanctuary bill” by Republican leaders. In 2019, lawmakers gutted a bill from Torres calling for reports about how serious the underlying crimes were for people who were arrested and ended up in deportation proceedings; the bill ultimately enacted a provision requiring jail staff to tell inmates why they are asking questions about immigration status.

Castro noted the repeated attempts to address collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the state level and said that although the most recent effort through AB376 has been watered down, it’s significant progress from previous years. 

“This is the furthest that we've gotten with a piece of legislation like this,” she said. “And we're gonna continue to come back until it actually becomes a law, because I think at the end of the day, deportations are not stopping whether we have a Democratic president. So we're going to continue to bring these policies forward because our communities deserve and they need that relief.”

This session, Torres’ bill faced opposition from law enforcement and critics who again argued it would make Nevada a “sanctuary state” and repel tourists.

Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the committee from which Torres’ bill passed in its original form a few weeks ago before being amended, acknowledged that changes to programs such as 287(g) agreements between local and federal law enforcement are difficult to explain and people are “afraid of that conversation.” In recent years, Republicans such as 2018 gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt have rallied around the criticism that Democrats are trying to implement sanctuary policies, and some Democrats have shied away from responding to those statements.

“I think immigration is such an intimidating topic for anybody. Doesn't matter what side of the aisle you're on,” Flores said in an interview. “And it's a very heavy lift. Because politically, it's so easy for it to be turned into something it’s not.”

For now, Castro and other immigrant advocates and organizations are focused on helping raise support to shepherd the bill all the way to Sisolak’s desk and working with state leaders to ensure that a potential fourth attempt to pass legislation such as AB376 doesn’t get stuck in the process. “Our communities have waited enough, especially with the pandemic, knowing that they were left out of any financial resources, any support,” Castro said. “Being in a state where we have the largest population of immigrants per capita, I think that puts us in a place where we really need to be intentional about how we're including and supporting our undocumented communities.”

Bills sent to budget committees

Budget committees in the Assembly and Senate typically serve two roles — reviewing every part of the state’s executive budget, while also holding jurisdiction over any bill that includes direct spending or a potential fiscal impact to the state.

But on deadline days, those committees serve another role — lifeboats for contentious or complex bills that would otherwise sink by deadline day. That said, referrals to budget committees don’t guarantee anything, and can often be the final stop for bills with large fiscal impacts or that draw too much opposition during the session. 

Here’s a look at some of the major bills that were referred to budget committees on Tuesday:

Cannabis

SB235 proposes a single, streamlined dispensary license in place of the current system, in which most dispensaries have both a medical and a recreational license. But a compromise from the bill’s earlier version raised further questions about whether consolidating licenses would reduce revenue. 

Another bill, AB322, allows for permitting events where cannabis can be sold or consumed but could require more staff resources to process additional licenses. Another, AB341, authorizes cannabis consumption lounges, but regulators anticipate it would also require the Cannabis Compliance Board to staff up to meet the higher regulatory and enforcement workload. 

Health care

SB201, sponsored by an interim committee studying prescription drug prices, would require the licensure and regulation of any pharmaceutical sales representatives. An amendment to the bill adopted Tuesday requires that any licensure funds (between $500 and $800 per year) only account for the costs of licensing and regulating the profession, or improving transparency on the price of prescription drugs, and wouldn’t revert to the state’s main budget account.

A fiscal note on the bill submitted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Public and Behavioral Health Division estimated that it would cost the state around $250,000 every year to implement the bill and regulate the estimated 3,800 pharmaceutical sales representatives active in the state.

Another pharmaceutical drug-related measure expanding the state’s existing drug price reporting database, SB380, was similarly amended and referred to a budget committee on Tuesday. While no dollar amount was listed on a fiscal note attached to the bill by the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency wrote that the state’s current drug pricing transparency database “will not meet the requirements” of the bill.

And the bill by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno creating a statewide occupational licensing board for professional midwives (AB387) was similarly yanked to a budget committee after being amended on Tuesday.

The state Department of Public and Behavioral Health estimated that the agency would need around $450,000 every two-year budget cycle to hire staff to implement provisions of the original bill.

Decriminalizing traffic tickets

A bill by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) aimed at decriminalizing traffic tickets — the fifth time in five sessions lawmakers have brought the concept forward — was referred to the Assembly budget committee on Tuesday, after legislators adopted a lengthy amendment.  

Local governments have long argued against the bill, saying that fees and fines from traffic tickets make up a substantial portion of their annual budgets. Clark County, for example, estimated that the measure would lead to a $12.75 million annual reduction in revenue.

Election bills

Though it technically happened late Monday, lawmakers agreed to send two major election-related bills sponsored by Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) to the Assembly budget committee.

AB321, which would make Nevada’s expanded mail voting system in place for the 2020 election a permanent feature, carries a somewhat hefty price tag — the secretary of state’s office estimated that the measure would cost up to $17.3 million to set up for the 2022 election cycle, and $7.7 million in future election cycles.

AB126, which aims to move Nevada up the presidential preference primary calendar, was also tagged with a $5.2 million price tag from the secretary of state’s office.

Bills that actually died:

By the end of the evening, only four bills actually died by Tuesday’s deadline for first house passage, withering on the proverbial vine that is the Secretary’s Desk. Three of the four failed measures (excluding SB314) would have required a two-thirds vote as they increased taxes. They included:

  • SB314, a bill by Sen. Dina Neal that aimed to place more regulations and customer protections around high-volume marketplace sellers — defined as any person who makes or enters into 200 or more transactions through an online marketplace such as Etsy or Amazon.
  • SB170, a bill sponsored by the Legislative Committee on Public Lands that looked to change the registration process for off-highway vehicles. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass.
  • SB405, a bill from the Governor’s Office of Finance that would have removed caps on funding that the state’s Public Utilities Commission and Office of Consumer Advocate receive from regulated providers of electric and natural gas service (such as NV Energy and Southwest Gas). It instead would have authorized both agencies to set funding levels (calculated in mills based on operating revenue) based on what was needed to fund agency operations. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass.
  • SB407, a bill from the Governor’s Office of Finance that would have required professional apiaries (beekeepers) pay an annual registration fee and register with the state — while exempting hobbyist beekeepers. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass.

Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez contributed to this report.

Updated on 4/21/2021 at 5:55 p.m. to add statements from Erika Castro.

Deadline Day: Banning ‘ghost guns,’ prohibiting cat declawing and bail reform all advance

At times with little debate, state lawmakers worked late into the night on Tuesday to pass more than 140 bills out of their house of origin prior to the Legislature’s second major bill passage deadline.

Lawmakers voted out measures including a tenant’s rights bill limiting application fees, a bill requiring eggs sold in Nevada be cage-free and a measure lowering penalties for youth caught possessing marijuana.

They also approved a contentious measure banning so-called “ghost guns,” after the bill was amended to remove sections giving businesses more rights to prohibit firearms on their property.

In total, lawmakers by Tuesday evening had approved 143 bills and resolutions, including 57 in the Senate and 86 in the Assembly. Legislators worked quickly — only one measure in the Assembly received any debate from lawmakers prior to a vote.

But Tuesday’s deadline is just one of many upcoming hurdles —  lawmakers will only have a few short weeks before the next major deadline to pass bills out of their second committee comes on May 14. 

However, a bill not passing by Tuesday doesn’t necessarily mean it has entered the legislative graveyard — dozens of bills have been granted exemptions from legislative deadlines, either because they have a fiscal effect on the state budget or because they were granted a waiver from those deadlines from legislative leadership.

That includes major election-related bills moving Nevada to an expanded mail-voting system and a measure aimed at moving the state up the presidential primary calendar — both of which were granted exemptions from legislative deadlines and moved to a budget committee on Monday.

Legislators were also busy on Monday, approving more than 40 bills including measures aimed at improving access to birth control, sealing records of evictions that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a statewide human trafficking victim support plan and shoring up the state’s battered unemployment insurance system. 

Here’s a look at major policies that passed out of floor sessions on Monday and Tuesday.

TUESDAY

Banning ‘ghost guns’

Despite a significant amendment removing language giving casino resorts and other major businesses more legal weight to prohibit firearm possession on their property, members of the Assembly still cast a party-line 26-16 vote to approve Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui’s AB286.

The bill  — which had drawn strong opposition from pro-gun groups including the National Rifle Association — now makes it illegal for a person to possess or sell any unfinished frame or reiever of a firearm, or any fireram not imprinted with a serial number. It’s intended to cut down on so-called “ghost guns,” which gun safety advocates say are used by criminals to obtain weapons that they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to purchase.

Those arguments didn’t fly with Assembly Republicans, including Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden), who said the bill didn’t have any protections for current gun kit owners and would turn them into criminals overnight.

“This bill is nothing but the camel’s nose under the tent, except this time, it's up to the neck,” he said. “This bill is another bite of the apple, and that apple is your Second Amendment rights being taken away, bite by bite.”

Jauregui said removing the portion of the bill empowering businesses to ban guns on premise was not ideal, but the bill’s focus was ghost guns and it was vital to pass the bill by deadline.

“We're still committed to working with stakeholders and my colleagues, because this discussion isn't over,” Jauregui told reporters Tuesday evening. “We have a big responsibility to the thousands and thousands of employees who work on the Strip every single day. They're entitled to a safe workplace.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, but it could coincide with recently announced plans by the Biden administration to also take action to limit the proliferation of so-called “ghost guns.”

Housing protections

Along a party line vote with Republicans in opposition, the Senate passed SB254, a bill that establishes fair housing procedures and strengthens anti-discrimination laws.

Sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas), the bill would authorize the Nevada Housing Division to investigate housing discrimination and prohibit landlords from looking at arrest records of potential tenants.

The measure also prevents landlords from denying applicants because they rely on public assistance or have a disability.

“It is time that Nevada moves into the space where we actually stand behind our words of ‘second chances for citizens’ who have either served their time or who have not been further criminalized within the system and are not currently in jail,” Neal said. “Housing is a fundamental part of our lives.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) said that though he appreciates the intent of the legislation, the bill’s requirement that the attorney general prosecute on behalf of individuals who experience discrimination goes too far.

“It’s just inappropriate and not the right role for the attorney general in the state of Nevada," Kieckhefer said.

Tenant protections

Senators voted on party lines, with Republicans opposed, for a bill that expands tenant protections, including barring landlords from taking an application fee from more than one prospective tenant at a time. SB218 is sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks).

It also limits landlords to fees allowed by statute or that are “actual and reasonable,” requires fees be disclosed on the first page of the lease agreement and may not increase fees without 45 days advance notice for rent paid monthly.

Restorative justice before expulsion

Senators voted 16-5 to approve SB354, which prohibits schools from expelling a student without first providing them with an action plan based on restorative justice. The bill defines restorative justice as “nonpunitive intervention and support” meant to improve the student’s behavior and remedy any harm they caused.

It calls for a statewide framework of restorative justice that could include training for school staff on psychology, trauma and chronic stress. The bill also requires the state to recognize in its accountability system schools that reduce their rates of suspension and expulsion.

Five Republicans opposed the bill.

Transparency on food delivery fees

Senators unanimously approved SB320, which requires services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats to clearly disclose fees applied to food orders.

The measure, which is sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas), was tempered from its original version but still requires conspicuous disclosure of what portions of the price are for the food, taxes, delivery fees and the average commission charged to the restaurant.

It limits commissions to 20 percent plus a credit card processing fee during the COVID-19 state of emergency, unless the restaurant agrees to pay the delivery platform more for services such as marketing.

Bail reform

Members of the Senate voted 17-4 to approve SB369, which amends Nevada’s law on pretrial release by requiring that a court only impose bail or a condition of release if its found to be the “least restrictive means necessary” to protect the safety of the community and ensure the person appears in court. It changes previous law requiring defendants show “good cause” for pretrial release that was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2019.

Republican Senate Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) said he opposed removing the “good cause” requirement, saying that he was concerned it could lead to more criminals on the street. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said it was needed to align the state with the court’s decision and still allowed courts to impose conditions of release on someone who might prove a danger to others.

“I think that this bill strikes a balance in protecting the community and providing some additional safeguards, while at the same time recognizing the Supreme Court's decision in (the 2019) case and aligning our statutes with their constitutional findings in that case,” Cannizzaro said.

HIV laws overhaul

In a unanimous vote, members of the state Senate approved Sen. Dallas Harris’ SB275 — a comprehensive bill aimed at updating the state’s laws on human immunodeficiency virus by treating HIV in the same way as other communicable diseases.

The bill repeals a state law making it a felony for someone who has tested positive for HIV to intentionally, knowingly or willfully engage in conduct that is intended or likely to transmit the disease — putting it in line with how the state treats other diseases such as chlamydia and SARS.

Banning the declawing of cats

A measure generally prohibiting the declawing of cats, except for medically necessary purposes, passed out of the Assembly on a 28-14 vote.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas), AB209 imposes civil penalties on any person who removes or disables 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.

All Assembly Democrats, save Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas), voted in favor of the measure, with all Republicans. save Melissa Hardy, Heidi Kasama and Jim Wheeler, voting against it.

Allowing college athletes to profit off their likeness

A measure clearing the way for collegiate athletes to profit off their image or likeness passed out of the Assembly on a 34-8 vote.

AB254, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, would prohibit the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from preventing students from using their likeness, name or image in sponsorships or for other professional services, with certain limits on what kinds of businesses that students can contract with. It also requires the Legislative Committee of Education to conduct an interim study on the issue.

Prohibiting ‘doxing’

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve Rochelle Nguyen’s AB296, which creates the crime of ‘doxing’ — unauthorized sharing of personal identifying information, such as an address, with the intent to cause harm or mental anguish.

The bill as amended authorizes a person to bring a civil action against a person who “doxes” them, and allows a court to issue restraining orders against a person that disseminates that personal information.

Lawsuits over sexual exploitation

Senators voted 18-3 to pass SB203, a bill that removes the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual exploitation to bring lawsuits against the parties involved. Previously, such actions were limited by deadlines, including one provision requiring a lawsuit be initiated within 20 years of a victim turning 18. 

The bill 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.

The three Republicans who voted against the bill raised several concerns, including how accurately a victim would remember a very old crime and why the measure included a 200-room limit. Sponsor Marilyn Dondero Loop responded that there needed to be some sort of room limitation or there would be no bill.

Notaries charging more

AB245, a bill that would allow notaries public to charge more for document preparation services, passed in a 31-11 vote.

Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) said the bill was backed by small businesses that wanted the opportunity to make more money. It would double or triple the fees that notaries are allowed to charge for certain services, and create civil penalties for violators — a provision Flores said was meant to curb bad actors in the industry.

The industry can be open to malfeasance in part because of notaries misrepresenting themselves as authorized to process immigration documents because of the way the term “notarios” translates in Latin American countries.

Cage-free eggs

Members of the Assembly voted 27-15 to pass AB399, which requires eggs sold within the state to be housed in cage-free living arrangements by Jan. 1, 2024.

Sponsor Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) argued during a hearing that demands for efficiency in egg production led to hens living in “pretty horrific conditions” with less square footage than a piece of letter paper. Egg industry officials who testified said consumer demand for cage-free eggs is quickly rising, and several of Nevada’s neighboring states are adopting cage-free requirements.

Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City) was the lone Republican to support the measure.

Citations, rather than arrests, for minor crimes

Assembly members voted on party lines, with Republicans opposed, for AB440 — a bill that directs police to issue citations in lieu of arresting people over misdemeanors in more situations. The measure does make exceptions for when the matter is a “subsequent” offense, defined as something for which the person has been previously arrested, convicted or cited. 

Multi-parent adoption

A measure allowing multiple parents to adopt a child without removing a parent from a child’s birth certificate passed out of the Assembly on a 34-8 vote.

AB115, sponsored by Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), would 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.

Small business advocate

On a 31-11 vote, members of the Assembly advanced a bill that would create an Office of Small Business Advocacy under the purview of the state lieutenant governor.

The bill, AB184, was amended to put a 2023 expiration date on the office and prohibits the lieutenant governor from funding positions in the office from budgeted dollars from the state’s general fund.

MONDAY

Sealing eviction records during COVID

Assembly members cast a party-line 26-16 vote to approve AB141, a bill from Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) that would require courts to automatically seal eviction case court records for any summary eviction conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The original version of the bill would have also required landlords to give certain long-term tenants additional advance notice before proceeding with a no-cause eviction, but those provisions were removed in an amendment.

Unemployment bill

Senators voted 12-9 to advance SB75, a measure that makes technical changes to the regular unemployment system, such as allowing more flexibility on when claimants are eligible for benefit extensions and assuring that layoffs during the height of the pandemic recession do not count against employers in determining their unemployment tax rate.

Republicans, who want more ambitious changes such as fast-tracking a major overhaul of computer infrastructure and the merging of the regular system with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for gig workers and the self-employed, said the bill does not go far enough.

“It's the only bill that DETR brought, and yet it fails to address the bulk of the problems including the structural and technological deficits that have kept thousands of people from getting the benefits they paid for,” said Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson). “I'm amazed that anyone thinks that this is enough.”

Pickard also spoke out against lawmakers’ decision to extend unemployment benefits to school support professionals who work from nine to eleven months a year. Those workers typically aren’t eligible for benefits because they have a reasonable expectation of their job returning after the summertime, although union representatives say a tough economic climate has hurt their summer job prospects.

But those workers will be eligible for unemployment this summer under emergency regulations adopted last week. Republicans say that even with federal funds footing 75 percent of the bill, it could cost districts millions of dollars.

“They were hired for nine months of work. This is a giveaway that I cannot support,” Pickard said.

Lowering barriers to contraception

Members of the Senate unanimously voted to approve SB190, 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

Cannizzaro introduced similar legislation in 2019, but that bill never made it out of its final committee hearing. 

“Removing access barriers to birth control will lead to better health outcomes for Nevadans who need it,” Cannizzaro tweeted after the bill was voted out of the Senate. “I’m excited to move this bill on to the Assembly!”

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

Keeping wage history private

Senators vote 17-4 to pass SB293, which prohibits an employer from seeking out a job candidate’s wage or salary history, or basing pay on a previous salary.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said the measure would help tackle the gender pay gap, ensuring that if a woman’s pay was lower than her male counterparts in her last job, it would not follow her to her next job and perpetuate a disparity.

She said the measure directs employers to base pay on a worker’s experience and qualifications instead of a previous pay scale.

Four Republican senators opposed the bill.

‘Pattern and practice’ investigations of police agencies

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve AB58, a bill sponsored by the attorney general’s office that authorizes the agency to conduct so-called “pattern and practice” investigations into systemic abuse or discrimination committed by law enforcement. 

During a hearing on the bill last month, Attorney General Aaron Ford said the measure was necessary because the federal U.S. Department of Justice — which was given authority to conduct such investigations in 1994 — ceased conducting them in 2017 under former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Though the policy may change, Ford said it is important for the state to have the ability to undertake similar investigations.

Jury trials for misdemeanor domestic violence cases

Members of the Assembly voted 32-10 to approve AB42, a bill seeking to implement a Nevada Supreme Court decision requiring jury trials in misdemeanor domestic violence cases that involve the defendant losing the right to have a firearm. 

The bill, which was sponsored by the City of Henderson, attempts to square a simmering implementation issue that arose for local governments after the Nevada Supreme Court’s 2019 decision requiring jury trials for misdemeanor domestic violence cases.

Six Republican Assembly members — Annie Black, Melissa Hardy, Heidi Kasama, Lisa Krasner, Tom Roberts and Jill Tolles —  joined Democrats in supporting the bill.

Mining oversight

Members of the Assembly voted along party lines (26-16) to approve AB148, a bill by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno) that would prohibit the issuance of a mining operation or exploration permit to any person leading a company that has defaulted on obligations related to mining reclamation.

An amendment to the bill refined the definition of a “principal officer” of a company to a “person who has a controlling interest” in a mining company that has defaulted on obligations, and allows that person to receive a permit once past debts are paid. The measure, if approved, would go into effect in 2022.

Hairstyle discrimination

In a 20-1 vote, the Senate passed SB327, which provides protections against discrimination based on hairstyles associated with particular races.

Sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas), the legislation extends statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists and knots in the workplace and public schools.

The bill arrives as part of a nationwide movement to end hair discrimination. Nevada is one of roughly thirty states considering adopting protections for hair styles, and at least 10 states, including Washington, California and Colorado, have already passed similar legislation.

“This is something that is new to some of the folks in this chamber, but very real to others who have spent years of their lives trying to make sure that their hair is appropriate, based upon what is often someone else's standards,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas).

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) was the only senator to vote in opposition.

Paid leave for health reasons and getting vaccine

The Senate passed SB209 by a vote of 19-2 with Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) in opposition.

Introduced by Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas), the bill would approve the use of state-mandated paid leave for any health reason, including receiving a COVID vaccine. It also requires the Legislative Committee on Health Care to conduct an interim study on the COVID public health crisis.

Kieckhefer said that though he supports paid leave for vaccines, the study did not seem necessary.

“I am … unabashedly pro vaccines,” Kieckhefer said. “However, I think the idea of charging the Legislative Committee on Health Care with the job of conducting an interim study on the state's COVID-19 response is a Herculean task that is most appropriate elsewhere.”

HOA debt collection

Members of the Senate voted 15-6 to pass SB186, a bill requiring collection agencies to file a report on collections related to homeowners’ associations (HOA).

The bill also prohibits collection agencies from collecting debts from a person who owes fees to an HOA if the collection agency is connected at all to that HOA, either through sharing the same owners or affiliates.

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) spoke in opposition to the bill, citing increased burdens on HOAs. 

The bill initially required collection agencies to report on the race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation of people from whom they are collecting, but was replaced with a requirement for the homeowner’s ZIP code. Still, Pickard said that the bill’s history was problematic.

“If we wish to find true equality and treatment, it must begin with race neutral goals that put all people on an even playing field,” Pickard said. “Not simply changing the parameters of the prejudice that moves one ahead at the expense of another.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) joined Democrats in support of the legislation.

Hate crimes

Members of the Senate cast a party-line vote, 12-9, to pass SB166, 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.

Sponsored by Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas), the bill specifies that characteristics include, race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. It also provides that a perpetrator may be punished with an additional penalty if he or she commits a crime based solely on the characteristic of the victim, even if the victim and perpetrator share that characteristic.

Though the measure passed along party-lines, it generated no floor remarks or debate.

Savings accounts for low-income Nevadans

Low-income people could access savings accounts and matching funds that could multiply their deposits up to five fold under SB188, a bill that senators passed unanimously which creates the “Individual Development Account Program.” People living in low-income housing projects, who have enrolled in Medicaid or who are in the foster care system are eligible.

The bill 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.

“This legislation will aid systems in supporting individuals to develop pathways out of poverty,” wrote Tiffany Tyler-Garner, head of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, in a letter of support. “Additionally, it establishes statewide infrastructure for fostering financial independence.”

Ratios of students to social workers

School districts in Clark and Washoe counties would have to create plans for achieving better ratios of students to mental health professionals under SB151, which passed the Senate in an 18-3 vote. 

Each year, districts must report to the governor, lawmakers and the Nevada Board of Education their ratio of students to “specialized instructional support personnel” (such as counselors, school psychologists and social workers). The bill also requires the districts to set targets for improvement and describe strategies for recruiting and retaining those staff members.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) voted against the bill, saying that the state’s current budget proposal will reduce the amount of funding available to social workers and lead to cuts in the positions even “as their contractual obligations continue to increase.”

“Hopefully, this measure will be able to be implemented with integrity that it needs to ensure that social workers are being funded at a level that is necessary,” he said.

Statewide human trafficking plan

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve AB143, a bill by Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) that would require creation of a statewide coalition and plan to deliver services to victims of human trafficking.

Krasner said previously that the bill is intended to help the state qualify for federal grants that require formation of a statewide plan for human trafficking victim services. The program would be placed under the Division of Child and Family Services in the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and includes a requirements that the state publish an online directory of services for victims of human trafficking.

This story was updated at 1:57 p.m. on Wednesday April 21, 2021 to include a quote from Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui on an amendment in the "ghost guns" bill.