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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate Minority Leader James A. Settelmeyer, left, and Senator Joe Hardy on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which legislators had the most success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks was the most successful of the bunch, getting five of his six introduced bills passed, including SB448, an omnibus energy bill expanding the state’s transmission infrastructure that was passed out of the Assembly on the final day of the session. With a larger number of introductions (13), Lange had twice as many bills passed as Brooks (10), covering a wide range of topics from health care to employment to a bill permanently authorizing curbside pickup at dispensaries (SB168).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success for Republican senators in passing bills was more rare.

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

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

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

Which legislators had the least success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When were bills heard and when did they pass?

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

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

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

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

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

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

College athlete compensation, cannabis investigations and ‘pot for pets’ among latest bills signed by Sisolak

As Nevada lawmakers work through the final weekend before the adjournment of the 120-day legislative session, Gov. Steve Sisolak has also been busy fulfilling his end of the process — signing more than 40 bills into law on Friday and Saturday.

Some of the higher-profile measures signed by Sisolak over the past two days include bills aimed at allowing collegiate athletes to receive compensation, lowering the penalties for minors caught in possession of alcohol or small amounts of marijuana, requiring teaching about minorities and historically underrepresented groups and raising the legal and age prerequisites for a person to become state attorney general.

Sisolak had signed 174 bills into law as of Saturday evening. Once bills are approved by both houses of the Legislature and sent to the governor’s office, the state’s chief executive has five days during sessions and 10 days after they adjourn to either sign the bill, veto the measure or allow the clock to expire, which causes a bill to automatically become law.

Here’s a look at some of the major bills signed by Sisolak on Friday and Saturday. For a full list of bills signed by the governor this session, click here.

AB101: ‘Pot for pets’

Sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), AB101 authorizes licensed veterinarians to administer products containing CBD or hemp in the treatment of an animal and to recommend use of such products to pet owners. It also prohibits the state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners from taking disciplinary action against veterinarians who administer or use such products.

The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate and Assembly. 

AB158: Lowering penalties for minors caught buying alcohol or marijuana

This measure sponsored by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) generally lowers the criminal penalties for minors found in possession of alcohol or small amounts of marijuana. 

Specifically, the bill prohibits imprisonment or a fine and instead requires any such person under the age of 21 found in possession of the prohibited substances to perform up to 24 hours of community service, attend a panel of victims of persons killed or injured by intoxicated drivers or undergo an evaluation to see if they have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder.

The bill also requires the automatic sealing of criminal records related to underage possession once a juvenile successfully completes the terms and conditions set by a court.

It passed unanimously out of the Senate and Assembly.

AB177: Prescription drug instructions in non-English languages

This measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), requires most pharmacies in the state to provide specific instructions on the use of a prescription drug in a language other than English, if requested by the recipient. It exempts pharmacies from civil liability if they contract with a third party translation service and injury cannot be linked to the “negligence, recklessness or deliberate misconduct of the pharmacy or employee.”

The measure passed out on a party-line 26-16 vote in the Assembly, but passed the Senate unanimously after an amendment was added granting civil immunity to pharmacies.

AB200: Regulations for veterinary telemedicine

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D-Las Vegas), the measure establishes regulations for veterinary telemedicine, allowing licensed veterinarians to practice telemedicine only after an in-person examination of an animal. Under the bill, veterinarians would not have to examine every member of a herd to consult remotely, and a doctor with access to medical records could also consult via remote communication.

The measure passed out of the Assembly on a 40-2 vote and then unanimously out of the Senate.

AB254: College athletes can profit off likeness

This bill from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) would prohibit colleges or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from preventing student athletes from being compensated for use of their name, image or likeness. It’s intended to align with planned moves by the NCAA to allow for student-athlete compensation.

The bill also requires that the Legislative Committee on Education conduct an interim study concerning the issue.

It passed on a 34-8 vote in the Assembly and on a unanimous vote in the Senate.

AB261: Teaching about history of underrepresented groups 

This measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Natha Anderson (D-Sparks), requires Nevada students to learn about the history and cultural contributions of minorities and historically underrepresented and discriminated against groups, including Native Americans, members of the LGBTQ community and African Americans. It would also require that textbooks and instructional materials accurately portray the history and contributions of marginalized groups.

The bill passed on party-line votes in the Senate and Assembly, with Republicans in opposition.

SB58: Cannabis investigations

This bill expands the duties of the Investigation Division of the Department of Public Safety to include assisting in investigations related to cannabis that the Department of Taxation or the Cannabis Compliance Board might be undertaking, if those agencies request the help. 

The bill passed unanimously in both houses.

SB66: Connecting kids to computers

This bill expands the work of the Office of Science, Innovation and Technology, calling on the agency to develop a statewide system to determine the extent to which students have access to the internet and computers in their homes. It also tasks the office with helping connect students to that technology. 

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and on a 35-4 vote in the Assembly, with some Republicans opposed.

AB227: Cracking down on independent contracting in construction

This bill bars contractors from hiring people who don’t have a contractor’s license and are not their direct employees to do work for a contractor that requires a contractor’s license. Backed by Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), the bill is one strategy to tackle the issue of employee misclassification but was opposed by all Republicans.

The bill passed on party-line votes in both houses.

AB190: Sick leave used to care for family

This bill requires that employers who offer sick leave to their workers also let those employees use that accrued time to attend to medical needs of their immediate family, whether that be for an illness, injury or doctor’s appointment. It allows employers, however, to limit the amount of sick leave a worker can use for that purpose.

The bill, sponsored by the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, includes a preamble stating that caregivers in Nevada provided 324 million hours of uncompensated care in 2013, at an estimated value of $4.27 billion.

The measure passed unanimously in the Senate and on a 30-12 vote in the Assembly; all who voted against it are Republicans.

AB236: Raising requirements to be attorney general

This bill, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), raises the prerequisites for serving as attorney general. It requires the person in that role to be at least 30 years old — up from the current minimum age of 25 — and have lived in Nevada for at least three years, up from two.

The person must also be a member in good standing of the Nevada Bar.

Frierson said that the duties of the office have become increasingly complex over the years, and Nevada’s minimum qualifications have not kept up with the prerequisites common in other states. Opponents said other constitutional offices, such as governor or treasurer, only require the person to be 25 and have no other professional prerequisites.

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) also said it gives way too much latitude to the state bar and limits the choices of Nevada voters.

The bill passed 31-11 in the Assembly and 12-8 in the Senate. All those who voted against it were Republicans.

SB362: Operating a ‘microtransit’ system

The bill authorizes the Regional Transportation Commission in Clark County to offer microtransit services, or transportation by a multi-passenger vehicle that carries fewer passengers than vehicles used on regular routes and is dispatched through a digital application service.

The measure passed unanimously out of the Senate and on a 36-5 vote in the Assembly.

SB363: Reporting requirements for charter schools

This measure requires charter schools that contract with education management companies to submit a report to the sponsor of the charter school, detailing the amount paid to those companies in the current and preceding fiscal years. Charter schools will also have to submit the same report to the director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau in even-numbered years.

The bill passed on a 19-2 vote in the Senate and a 35-6 vote in the Assembly.

AB181 - Mental health parity, attempted suicide report

This bill requires health care providers to report cases or suspected cases of attempted suicide to the state, with that information reported annually to the Patient Protection Commission. It also calls for an evaluation by the state Insurance Commissioner on whether insurers are adhering to a federal law requiring mental health parity — not limiting mental health benefits more than physical health benefits.

The measure passed 26-16 in the Assembly and 14-6 in the Senate. Those opposed were Republicans.

This story was updated on Sunday, May 30, 2021 at 12:53 p.m. to reflect that Assemblywoman Natha Anderson was the primary sponsor of AB261.

Bill requiring legislative audit of higher education system clears Assembly

The Assembly approved AB416 Wednesday, a bill sponsored by the Assembly Education Committee that would authorize a legislative audit to comb through a specific slice of financial records for the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) dating back to fiscal year 2019.

In particular, the audit will look at the system’s non-state appropriated funding and so-called “reserve accounts,” as well as gifts from private donors and capital project money used by UNLV and UNR. The Assembly passed the bill unanimously late Wednesday.

Still, the language approved Wednesday was vastly scaled back from an original version of the bill that would have required an audit of all of NSHE’s budget accounts — including both state-funded and self-supporting budgets — as well as audits for salaries, bonded debt and compliance with state, local and federal laws for fiscal years stretching back to 2014. 

That original language would have come with a roughly $700,000 price tag, so broad in scope that state auditors “would have had to, literally, reassign our entire office,” Legislative Auditor Dan Crossman told lawmakers. 

To that end, Assembly Education Committee Chair Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod described the cost as “a ridiculous amount of money” and said that broad scope was “never going to move forward” through legislative money committees. She added that it was a cost and level of effort that was largely moot, as NSHE already provides legislators with similar budget reports on its state funding.  

The push for an audit comes as lawmakers have sought to more broadly expand oversight over the state’s higher education system and the way it spends money. 

As the system and the regents governing it have pointed to the power of the purse as an ideal accountability tool in the wake of efforts to expand legislative oversight powers, legislators have long complained that NSHE’s accounts are complex and frequently opaque. 

Even this session, as lawmakers moved to restore tens of millions in cuts to higher education funding, Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) raised concerns across several budget hearings that NSHE’s budget was obscured “behind a curtain.” 

As a result, lawmakers have argued, there is often little time to parse how hundreds of millions in public dollars are being spent over the course of biennial legislative sessions. 

The audit from AB416 would also serve as something of a dry run should voters eventually approve SJR7, a proposed constitutional amendment that would mimic last year’s failed Ballot Question 1 by seeking to remove the Board of Regents from the state Constitution. 

Among the key differences between SJR7 and Question 1 is a new provision requiring legislators to provide for a biennial audit of the “state university and any other public institutions of higher education.”

Though legislators would have the power to call for an audit irrespective of the requirement included in SJR7 — as they are now with AB416 — backers of the measure have said the language was included in large part because voters had asked for it in the aftermath of Question 1’s failure.  

As a legislatively proposed constitutional amendment, SJR7 would need to pass through two legislative sessions and a general election vote before taking effect. The resolution cleared the first of those hurdles last week, passing through the Assembly 30-11 and on to the next legislative session.

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.

Veterinary telemedicine hearing goes off the rails amid confusion, amendments

A lawmaker asking a bill sponsor if she was willing to scrap an amendment to save her bill, a lobbyist mispronouncing a client's last name, and a mysterious, out-of-state company seeking to tack on a self-serving amendment sounds like the start of a very specific Carson City nightmare.

But that very situation befell Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D-Las Vegas), who found herself navigating a lively hearing on her veterinary telemedicine bill AB200 before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee hearing Wednesday.

The bill’s intent is straightforward — allow licensed veterinarians to practice telemedicine only after an in-person examination of an animal. Under the proposed bill, veterinarians would not have to examine every member of a herd to consult with a veterinarian, and a doctor with access to medical records could also consult on a case via remote communication.

Former president of the Nevada State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners Jon Pennelle testified that though telehealth is vital for expanding access to veterinary care, in-person visits are necessary.

"For thousands of years, animals have instinctively hidden illness and pain as a means of survival," Pennelle said. "And I feel there are just too many things that can be missed by not actually examining and touching a patient first."

Though many veterinarians lauded the measure, two proposed amendments took discussions of the bill off the rails.

One friendly conceptual amendment proposed by the Nevada Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners tacked on provisions of another, larger veterinary bill (SB366) that died in committee. The proposed amendment would make a handful of changes to veterinary medicine outside of just telemedicine, including:

  • Remove a provision requiring the board to post a notice in a newspaper if an applicant for a license or registration cannot be reached by the board
  • Allow the board to accept licensure applications online by removing a requirement for notarization
  • Permit licensed veterinary technicians to administer zoonotic vaccinations such as rabies

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) raised concerns about removing a requirement to post notices and requested more information into provisions of the amendment. 

But when the board's executive director was not available via Zoom or the telephone to answer Pickard's question, Bilbray-Axelrod said her only goal was to pass the bill.

Pickard asked Bilbray-Axelrod if what she meant to say was that she "would be willing to jettison the amendment" to save her bill if the amendment is "problematic."

"I was trying to be nicer," Bilbray-Axelrod responded. "But I mean, sure."

During public testimony in support, the executive director apologized for her technology issues and said she responded to the lawmakers’ questions in writing. 

Despite the confusion over the board's proposed amendment, the committee began to hear testimony on the legislation —  which is when it moved into the stuff of legislative nightmares.

Dutch Pet, Inc., a California-based telemedicine company that records indicate was incorporated in March in Delaware, testified in opposition to the bill. The company has been at the forefront of a push for deregulation in veterinary medicine in Florida and submitted a conceptual amendment ahead of the hearing requesting that the language requiring a physical examination occurs before telemedicine instead become optional.

A lobbyist for the business, John Oceguera, represented the corporation and called forward its legal counsel, Virginia Mimmack, to testify on the amendment. Lawmakers were further confused by several mispronunciations of her last name as "Mimic," leading to additional befuddlement and delays. 

Mimmack said that requiring a physical examination was not in line with laws in other states such as New Jersey, Virginia, Idaho and Michigan, and would prevent new entrants to Nevada's veterinary markets.

"As currently written, the only veterinarians that can take advantage of the many benefits of telemedicine are those veterinarians that already have a brick-and-mortar practice in Nevada," Mimmack said. 

That testimony prompted about half an hour of questions from lawmakers, who wanted further clarity on Dutch Pet's motives for opposing the bill. 

"I'm trying to get the linkage about why you'd want to testify in the Nevada Legislature about Nevada veterinarians, when you don't have any veterinarians here," Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) said, noting that Florida and Arizona had both recently rejected bills pushing for deregulation of veterinary telemedicine.

Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) called Mimmack's comments "confusing" and unrealistic. Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) put her thoughts more bluntly.

"Let's just be clear on the record that your amendment allows Dutch Pet to come into Nevada," she said. "If the amendment is not adopted, then Dutch Pet's business model would not be allowed in Nevada. And that's the real deal, right?"

"Our testimony today is really not about Dutch Pet. Dutch Pet is not currently active in Nevada. But our testimony today is about prohibiting a Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR) to be established remotely," Mimmack responded. "It doesn't allow any new entrants into the market and several other states have found out ways to do this."

Pickard said he tends to favor expanding competition, but was concerned that veterinarians could make incorrect diagnoses or miss warning signs without in-person check-ups.

"Unless you have Dr. Doolittle on staff, you're not going to be able to talk to the patient," Pickard said.

Committee Chair Sen. Pat Spearman (D-Las Vegas) joked that five years and six months later, she was closing the hearing. The committee took no action on the bill.

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.

Under proposed bill, push to change community college governance will start as a study

Sign in front of the UNLV College of Engineering

Gov. Steve Sisolak surprised the state’s higher education world this January when he suggested during his State of the State address that Nevada’s four community colleges should be governed by a “new independent authority” — presumed to be outside the existing Nevada System of Higher Education. 

“We need to recognize that our community colleges will play an even bigger role in workforce training,” Sisolak said at the time. “That’s why I will be asking the Legislature to work with the Nevada System of Higher Education over the next two years to develop a framework to transition Nevada’s community colleges to a new independent authority that will focus on making Nevadans job ready. Community colleges, together with union apprenticeship programs, are critical elements in building Nevada’s workforce and economic future.”

Then, it was unclear exactly what such an undertaking would look like, and community college presidents all deferred judgment on the idea until a concrete proposal existed. 

Several months later and that concrete proposal has finally emerged as AB450, which received an initial hearing last Thursday in the Assembly Education Committee. 

Sponsored by the governor’s office and presented by Sisolak’s policy director, Heather Korbulic, AB450 stops short of implementing any immediate changes. Instead, it would create an interim committee that would study workforce development programs at the state’s community colleges, as well as the role a change in governance structure could have in the way such programs — and the colleges themselves — are funded. 

“To reiterate, the governor believes that the NSHE funding formulas are in need of review, and that's why he specifically called on this study committee to analyze existing funding structures,” Korbulic said.

Last overhauled in 2013, those formulas ironed out differences between institutions through the use of weighted student credit hours, weighting more expensive courses, such as labs or graduate courses, higher than comparatively low-cost courses. 

However, community colleges have complained that the formula is “one-size-fits-all,” and that it does not adequately account for the material differences between community colleges and their research university counterparts. 

The seven-member committee would be split between education officials and economic development representatives, including: one member from the Governor’s Office for Economic Development; three members from local chambers of commerce (two south and one north); State Superintendent Jhone Ebert; Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Melody Rose; and one of the state’s four community college presidents. 

Though Thursday’s hearing on the bill was brief, a handful of questions did emerge over the committee’s makeup. Committee Chair Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D-Las Vegas) asked Korbulic if the governor’s office had considered the addition of labor group representatives, and later, a spokesperson for the Nevada Faculty Alliance testified against the measure so long as it excluded faculty and student representatives.   

In responding to Bilbray-Axelrod, Korbulic said the primary driver behind the committee’s small size was keeping it “quick and nimble.”

“So what we thought that we were doing is creating a bill that would allow for a lot of flexibility with primary stakeholders at the table and then allowing for subcommittees to be formed from there, and then also having a public forum in order to include all of the voices that felt like they wanted to be heard,” Korbulic said.

The bill received testimony in support from the Vegas Chamber, as well as testimony in neutral from the Clark County Education Association, which supported the measure in spirit but declined full support without assurances from lawmakers on CCEA’s pupil-centered funding plan. 

Waived through legislative deadlines, AB450 must still receive approval from the Assembly Education Committee before heading to the full floor for a vote.

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.

Behind the Bar: Homeschoolers vs. Department of Education, plus bills raising the smoking age to 21, making it easier to fire principals and licensing all charter school teachers

Behind the Bar is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2021 Legislature. 

In this edition: How lobbying might look once the legislative building re-opens, a controversial home-schooling bill, raising the smoking age to 21 and education bills making it easier to fire principals and requiring all charter school teachers be licensed. Plus, the debut of ‘Carson City Restaurant Spotlight.’

Check this link to manage your newsletter subscriptions. The newsletter is published on Mondays and Thursdays.

I want to hear from you! Questions, comments, observations, jokes, what you think we should be covering or paying attention to. Email me at rsnyder@thenvindy.com.

~~~

There’s finally a path forward for opening up the Legislative Building to the public.

If you missed the story yesterday, staff of the Legislative Counsel Bureau and other “folks in the building” will begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines starting next week. It’s the Moderna vaccine, so it requires the four week waiting period between shots (some folks are trying to guesstimate when that would allow for the building to be opened up again, with predictions for early April. (Nothing set in stone)

Obviously, this is a huge deal in many ways. Republicans in both chambers have been asking for more clarity on reopening plans, and just about every lawmaker I’ve spoken with regardless of party wants the building to be open, as long as proper safety measures can be put in place.

Public participation in the legislative process is important, and while moving to virtual committee meetings has been a great change in terms of increasing public access (versus having to take time out of your day to head to Carson City or the Grant Sawyer building), there is clearly an appetite for a return to some form of in-person meetings.

But thinking back on past legislative sessions, outside of occasional hearings on bills related to school policy or firearms, there really haven’t been huge crowds of people inside the actual legislative building. Again, part of that is access; if you’re a working person in Las Vegas, it isn’t realistic to expect an in-person appearance at the state capital hundreds of miles away.

In a way, the group of people most affected by opening up the Legislative Building will be the state’s lobbying corps — possibly the only group of people I can think of who might be looking forward to being in the building.

So what will the lobbying process look like, assuming the building re-opens in stages?

Several hints were dropped during the bill hearing on AB110, the measure that sets up the new registration system for lobbyists (recall that there has been no lobbyist registration this session, as state law requires them to be in the building).

LCB Director Brenda Erdoes said the measure would require lobbyists to “backdate” their lobbying activities to the first day of the session — meaning that lobbyists can’t get cute and avoid listing clients that they lobbied on behalf of before the bill goes into effect.

By taking out the requirement that a lobbyist be in the building, the bill is likely to pull in additional lobbyists who either don’t normally go to the building or who will avoid going even after it opens in order to avoid potential COVID exposure.

Lobbyists who were registered in the 2019 session also received an email last Friday with a few other bits of information as to how the process will work. For in-person testimony during committee meetings, LCB plans to add an option to the existing virtual online registration system.

LCB is also tentatively planning to have a video conference site available at the UNLV student union, and is working on preparing other sites for remote public comment, per the email.

That said, expect the process and rules put in place for in-person attendance to not be finalized until much closer to whatever date the building opens again (recall that the move to virtual committees wasn’t announced until the Friday before the session started).

But I know many lobbyists are looking forward to in-person interactions in the Legislative Building once again. I thought Nevada Right to Life’s Melissa Clement (regardless of what you think of her politics) made a poignant point during the AB110 hearing — that it’s a lot easier to dismiss and not engage with voices you disagree with when the interaction is virtual, not face to face.

“Right now if I'm lucky enough, and high enough in the queue … I'm just a disembodied voice which you can easily ignore,” she said during the hearing. “It's a little more difficult for you to ignore me when I ride up on an elevator with you, or in the case of Chair (Brittney) Miller when I hang out right in front of your office on those comfy chairs, and I ask you how your kids are, how your small business is doing, or how your drive up from Las Vegas was. This humanizes me. The short little conversations can turn into respect, and a longer conversation on my subject matter expertise. And this, of course, is the basis of lobbying.”

— Riley Snyder

Bill requiring charter school teacher licensure would only affect a few dozen

A bill recently introduced in the Legislature would require all charter school teachers to be licensed — a change that may affect a few dozen people who largely work as specialists.

But the proposed legislation, AB109, would offer a grace period for unlicensed teachers employed on or before July 1, which is the date the bill would take effect if approved by the Legislature. Those teachers would have five years — or until July 1, 2026 — to obtain a license.

The bill was submitted on behalf of the Legislative Committee on Education, which met during the interim. Rebecca Feiden, executive director of the State Public Charter School Authority, declined to comment on the bill. 

But the Charter School Authority — which is the third-largest district from an enrollment standpoint — weighed in on possible changes in September when it sent a briefing memorandum to the Legislative Committee on Education. Only 36 teachers working in SPCSA-sponsored charter schools did not have an active license with the Nevada Department of Education as of October 2019, according to the memo. The vast majority — 2,251 out of 2,287 teachers — did have one.

“The remaining 36 teachers that were identified as not having a record of an active license were primarily “specials” teachers such as Dance, Yoga, Band, PE, Animation, Photography, Weight Training, and Media Arts,” Feiden wrote in the memo.

Existing Nevada law requires that at least 70 percent of charter school teachers have a license or “subject matter expertise”; however, all teachers working with students who receive special education services or those learning English as a second language must have a license. Additionally, it allows some licensing flexibility for charter schools that have three or more stars under the state’s performance framework system.

According to the memo, the Charter School Authority had proposed doing away with references to “subject matter expertise” and any differentiation based on school performance. It also wanted to keep the requirement that at least 70 percent of teachers are licensed but mandate that those teaching core academic subjects — English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies — have a license.

No bill hearings have been scheduled yet.

— Jackie Valley

Un-repealing principal hiring practices

In 2019, Decker Elementary School Principal Alice Roybal-Benson had an uprising on her hands.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the school’s turnover rate was high and staff morale remained low, with one writing in a resignation letter that the principal had “cultivated the most toxic and hostile work environment in which I have ever had the displeasure of working.”

At the time, provisions existed in state law that allowed for principals to be moved to probationary, at-will employment status (meaning they’d be easier to remove or fire) if the school rating declined in consecutive years or if 50 percent of teachers requested transfers for two years in a row.

But state lawmakers in the 2019 Legislature took out those provisions — Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) said it was necessary to repeal the law (originally passed as part of a broader series of education changes in the Republican-controlled 2015 Legislature) to avoid a “chilling effect” on administrative employees at school districts, which included a section requiring principals be considered “at-will” employees for their first three years of unemployment.

“If even one great principal elects to move on to retirement or another career because of (the law), it would be a tremendous loss for Nevada's students, with no discernible benefit,” he said during a committee hearing at the time.

But two years later, Denis has introduced a bill reversing those changes, and un-repealing the sections of the 2015 law that made it easier to remove “bad apple” principals.

The bill, SB120, was introduced on Monday and would again require newly hired principals to be employed at-will for their first three years of employment. Principals could also again become probationary, at-will employees if (again) they see more than 50 percent teacher transfers or school rating declines in subsequent years.

The bill would also allow the school superintendent to recommend immediate dismissal of a principal in the probationary period (subject to approval by the school board of trustees). It would also require any school administrator who completes the initial three-year probationary period to reapply for their position every five years, unless they are part of a collective bargaining unit for principals or school administrators.

In an interview, Denis stressed that he expected feedback on the measure and that changes would likely come before the bill comes up for a hearing, but said that school districts still needed more flexibility in dealing with principals who may clash with teachers or parents. 

“My intent is to see if we can find a happy medium, that there's stuff in there to be able to discipline principles if needed, not punish those that are doing good things,” he said.

Denis said while the original language repealed in 2019 was “too strong” and that school administrators generally needed more training and resources, the state should have some sort of mechanism to remove ineffective or harmful administrators.

“A principal that has issues can disrupt the whole school, and that whole school community of parents and teachers and create a lot of issues,”  he said. “The one thing I have learned in all my advocacy over all these years is that for a school to be successful, they have to have a good leader, (they) have to have good teachers. But good teachers, if they have a terrible administrator, cannot be good teachers.”

— Riley Snyder

In response to outcry from homeschool community, lawmakers clarify that civics includes government

On its face, AB19 seems like a run-of-the-mill bill updating the typically dry subject area of curriculum requirements.

However, the bill from the Nevada Department of Education meant to update the state's curriculum for homeschoolers to match those for public schools somehow garnered more than 1,250 opposition opinions, demarcating it as the most contentious bill this session and drawing the ire of angry homeschool advocates, many of whom claimed that the bill presents an "egregious" overreach of governmental authority.

"As government has grown in power and scope, busybodies have found better ways to satisfy their need to mind everyone else's business," said Michael Kurcav, a homeschool parent, during the Tuesday bill hearing. "Busybodies have always disapproved of others' choices, but today, as busy-bullies, they use government to force others to comply with their will."

Though many public commenters argued that the Department of Education has no jurisdiction to bring forward the bill without consulting and including homeschool families, others focused on the decision to remove government from a list of core subjects and instead add civics, multicultural education and financial literacy.

The addition of financial literacy and multicultural education to the state's educational requirements took place during the 2015 and 2017 legislative sessions. 

Officials with the Department of Education said that when English, including reading, composition and writing, shifted to English language arts in 2015, lawmakers also updated homeschool curriculums to reflect that change. 

Fears about losing government as a subject prompted Chair of the Assembly Education Committee Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D-Las Vegas) to clarify the definition of civics education.

"Civics is encompassing of government, we are not removing government at all," Bilbray-Axelrod said. "I think that there might be some misrepresentation out there, and I'm going to assume that it's benign, that government is now being replaced by multicultural education. I can 100 percent tell you that is not the case."

Still, opponents of the bill worry that civics will not provide enough of a focus on government operations.

"I know that civics is included in this bill, but I just question the depth of training in government that our students and our children will receive," Gardnerville resident Bob Russo said. "I'm very concerned about replacing government with the subject multiculturalism, which I believe could open the door to teaching divisive ideologies such as critical race theory that can lead to hatred, divisiveness and hostility among our children, instead of bringing them together as friends and young Americans."

Nevada Department of Education Deputy Superintendent of Student Achievement Jonathan Moore emphasized that homeschool parents will still have the autonomy to determine how to teach the material, and the state is not removing that right.

Advocates of the bill said that Nevada's education system does not reflect its diversity. This bill would be a step toward recognizing and honoring minority communities, they said.

"Unfortunately, when we read about our Black neighbors and Indigenous neighbors, we often don't see that beauty and resilience reflected in the curriculum and how we teach, and that our children don't grow up to learn about the beauty of both cultures," said Teresa Melendez, founder and chairman of TallTree Indigenous Education Consulting. 

Lawmakers did not take any action on the bill or schedule any more hearings.

— Tabitha Mueller

Making the smoking age the same as the drinking age

Lawmakers are looking to bring Nevada in line with a federal law passed in 2019 that raises the legal tobacco sales age from 18 to 21.

If the state doesn’t do so within three years, it could lose millions each year from federal grants and a multi-state settlement with large tobacco companies. That funding supports a variety of initiatives including smoking prevention, but it’s also massively important to keeping the Millennium Scholarship afloat.

Still, the bill — AB59 — wasn’t without controversy in the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Health districts and advocacy groups opposed it because they say they want tougher enforcement — including at least one or two compliance checks at retailers each year and the threat of license revocation for repeat offenders.

They don’t think the current penalties are strong enough. Clerks who sell to minors face a civil penalty of $100 that can escalate to $500 for multiple sales within two years, while retailers receive warnings for the first two sales to minors and then face a penalty starting at $500.

That’s more than the $1,000 fine for the first offense of selling a single loose cigarette. 

But Jessica Adair, chief of staff for Attorney General Aaron Ford, defended the policy as a way not to be too harsh with frontline clerks who may be selling to minors for lack of training.

“We had initially proposed a stronger regulatory scheme and penalty process for retailers. That legislation did not pass,” she said. “We, however, did bring to this state ... for the first time, accountability for retailers who sell to minors.”

Stepping into the breach during the meeting to stress unity was Republican Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, who is often seen taking a smoke break outside the Legislative Building. He disclosed that he started smoking at age 13 and is now 67, and offered his help to get the bill to the finish line.

“I know that quitting smoking is easy because I've done this hundreds of times,” he quipped. “And I don't want to see our kids start smoking at their most vulnerable age.”

— Michelle Rindels

Carson City Restaurant Spotlight

I am a non-ironic Little Caesars pizza loyalist (nothing beats the value of an Ultimate Supreme hot and ready out of the Pizza Portal), but I stretched my horizons a bit when I heard Pizzava opened in Carson about a month ago. 

Locally owned, Pizzava has a location in Midtown Reno but also recently expanded to a strip mall on Williams Street perhaps best known for its Starbucks. 

I can report that the Spicy Alfredo pizza — chicken, bacon, and jalapeño on an alfredo sauce base — is tremendous and has just the right amount of heat. Upgraded to add fresh mushrooms and a garlic parmesan crust, which felt like getting a bonus breadstick at the end of a perfect pizza slice.

For about $28 including tip, got a large pie that fed two for two meals. I opted for pick-up, but Pizzava touts “fast delivery” on its site, and perhaps best of all, it’s open late — till 1 a.m. in Carson and till 3 a.m. in Reno — so perfect for deadline nights or marathon bill-reading sessions.

Check it out at 1426 E William St. #3 in Carson City or give them a call at (775) 600-0505. 

Have a restaurant suggestion for the Spotlight? Tell me at michelle@thenvindy.com. FYI: We’re not accepting free food in order to preserve the integrity of the reviews.

A soon-to-be devoured pizza from Pizzava in Carson City, taken on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (Michelle Rindels/The Nevada Independent)

What we’re reading

Our latest Freshman Orientation on Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas).

Sometimes you own the libs, and sometimes the libs own you by renaming the airport after Harry Reid.

Taking a look at the state’s new economic development plan, and how it helped inspire Sisolak’s legislative agenda.

Our story on Speaker Jason Frierson’s bill to move Nevada to the top of the presidential nominating calendar. (A long FHQ piece on why the bill will likely need to be amended to avoid a rascal like New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner from maneuvering around the primary dates).

A group of four conservative/right-wing lobbyists are suing to get back in the legislative building.

Former state Senate candidate April Becker, a Republican, is running for Congress.

Backers of the “Innovation Zones” concept have set up a website and social media feed.

The effort to decriminalize traffic tickets is back (notably, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Senate Judiciary Chair Melanie Scheible are co-sponsoring the measure) (Nevada Current) (Las Vegas Sun).

More details on Steve Yeager’s bill restoring Nevada Day back to Oct. 31, as opposed to the last Friday of the month. (Las Vegas Sun)

The race for Nevada State Democratic Party chair has coalesced on a key question; does Tick Segerblom have enough progressive bonafides? (Nevada Current)

Nevada’s autism treatment reimbursement rate is “considerably” lower than surrounding states, only four other states have a lower rate. (Nevada Current)

Teachers rallied in Carson City and Las Vegas on Monday. (Associated Press)

Sometimes a headline says it all: “Employees say SNHD contact tracing program a miserable failure” (KLAS)

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 22 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 25 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 102 (May 31, 2021)

Behind the Bar: Big plans, less funding for state grants office, police changes after summer Black Lives Matter protests and Sisolak Promise Tracker update

Behind the Bar is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2021 Legislature. 

In this edition: major updates from state grants office initiatives, criminal justice updates, how Vegas police have changed policies after Black Lives Matter protests this summer, a Sisolak Promise Tracker update and some noteworthy numbers from the higher education system.

Check this link to manage your newsletter subscriptions. The newsletter is published on Mondays and Thursdays.

I want to hear from you! Questions, comments, observations, jokes, what you think we should be covering or paying attention to. Email me at rsnyder@thenvindy.com.


Gov. Steve Sisolak is running for re-election.

There hasn’t yet been a big formal launch for the Democratic governor’s re-election campaign (he confirmed re-election plans last year), but signs are starting to creep in — increased activity of a governor-aligned political action committee (Home Means Nevada PAC), going on publicized tours of facilities and buildings and generally touting a relatively apolitical agenda focused on economic development during the 2021 Legislature.

The commingling of Sisolak’s legislative agenda focused on efforts to help the state recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and political concerns with the upcoming re-election campaign are readily apparent in the quick processing of AB106 on Wednesday evening.

In a vacuum, the bill makes sense. It’s an extra $50 million to the Pandemic Emergency Technical Support grant program, which provides grants between $10,000 and $20,000 to small businesses, nonprofits and other applicable groups. 

The program initially received $51 million in federal coronavirus relief funds — AB106 adds another $50 million in state dollars to the program, which will be directed to unfulfilled applications submitted last year (more than 13,500 applications for the program were submitted last October, or about 10 times the initial funding available).

Pushing the bill through now follows up on Sisolak’s request for the same in the State of the State, and gets needed dollars to businesses as soon as possible (lawmakers could run into trouble with the constitutional requirement to fund K-12 education first if they delay program implementation into the upcoming fiscal year).

But to be clear, there is a political undercurrent to much of this. It’s why the bill is coming up during the second week of session, why Sisolak himself gave opening remarks and why a cadre of high-profile business leaders (including the Las Vegas Metro Chamber) all testified in favor of the measure.

It’s a safe bet that this bill will pass with bipartisan support, and probably make it to the governor’s office sometime next week (assuming lawmakers don’t fast-track the measure). I’d also expect Sisolak’s office and the governor himself to trumpet the additional program funding once the bill is signed. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see funding end up in re-election material down the road, either.

The marriage of Sisolak’s legislative agenda with political priorities will be a trend to watch over the remaining 110 days (ugh) of the session — how and if there are any divergences between plans to improve the state’s economy and what legislative “wins” the governor wants to run on in what’s likely to be a tough 2022 campaign.

— Riley Snyder

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

Funding axed for long-delayed grants management software project

It’s estimated that Nevada likely loses millions of dollars in potential federal grants every year because of the lack of a statewide grants management system.

But despite a promise by Gov. Steve Sisolak in his 2021 State of the State address to greatly increase the number of federal grants coming into the state, the state grants office is preparing to enter the next budget cycle without funding for a dedicated grants management system — an absence that a former grants advisory council chair said, “(delays) Nevada getting hundreds of millions of dollars a year in additional federal funding.”

During a presentation Tuesday before the Assembly Government Affairs Committee, interim grants office Administrator Erin Hasty said that the office’s long-held but oft-delayed plans to implement a grants management software program were essentially on ice amid the state’s budget crunch and questionable economic status amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers first allocated funding ($200,000 per year) for implementation of a grants system in the 2017 session — part of a state effort to improve its poor placing in the national ranking of states that bring in the largest shares of federal grant dollars. The recommendation came from a federal grants-focused panel formed in 2015, which found states higher on the national federal grant recipient rankings list tended to have some kind of central software to match grant opportunities with potential applicants (state or local agencies, businesses or nonprofits).

But the program never got off the ground. After the state awarded the contract bid, it was sued by an unsuccessful bidder, which claimed that the former head of the office had tipped the scales in favor of a preferred company. A District Court judge ruled against the state in May 2019, meaning the contract was reopened to potential bidding. 

While lawmakers in 2019 again allocated $200,000 per year to the office to fund a contract, the office said that despite filing multiple requests for proposal, no contractors had submitted a bid that would cover everything the office was looking for in such a software system.

“The bottom line is that vendors just could not provide an enterprise system with full functionality for the allotted budget,” the grants office’s website states.

Hasty said Tuesday that the office had instead filed a request for information in February 2020 to get a better sense of what kind of budgetary request they would need going forward to implement such a software system. But that request was pulled in April, given expected “unforeseen budgetary impacts” caused by the pandemic. 

“Unfortunately, we had that study lined up and ready to go, but then also due to COVID and the budget shortfalls we reverted that back as well,” she said.

Instead, the office will for the foreseeable future continue plugging along on its current system, previously described by the agency as the “ad hoc and complex” web of Excel spreadsheets currently in use by the agency to manage and oversee grants. The office’s website says the state will pursue funding for a grants management system once the state is “again on solid economic and budgetary footing.”

Sisolak — whose proposed budget otherwise keeps funding flat for the grants office over the two-year budget cycle — in his State of the State address called for the state to increase its share of federal grants by $100 million over the next two years and by $500 million annually by 2026.

— Riley Snyder

Matching grants pilot project a success, but no additional funding expected

The state grants office had a promising response to a pilot program approved in the 2019 Legislature, where the state allocated $1 million to be used for grants that require a state matching fund — a program aimed at capturing federal dollars otherwise left at the table because the state agency or business couldn’t put forward necessary matching funds.

Hasty said the office received 31 applications and committed $970,000 of the original million dollars within the first three months of the program (starting in January 2020), but stopped accepting applications in April 2020 under the assumption that remaining funds would be reverted back to the state’s general fund.

So far, only one matching grant — $45,129 to the North Las Vegas Fire Department — has been fully executed, with the fire department receiving a $451,292 grant from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security. According to the office, the grants went to “replace 16 aging cardiac monitors to meet current standards and community need.”

Two other allocations of matching grants (worth a combined $925,049) were approved by lawmakers but still haven’t been notified if they’ll receive the corresponding federal grant dollars. 

The other two state-approved pending grant applications include:

  • A tribal government-backed grant to bring high-speed internet to farms and rural communities; state match of $855,000, with a federal match of $2.6 million.
  • A nonprofit organization to provide “human and family services,” with a state match of $70,000 and a federal grant of $210,000.

Under current law, the state share of those grants will revert back if the grants aren’t awarded by June 30 (the end of the fiscal year).

Assuming lawmakers don’t introduce a bill funding the program, it’ll close shop at the end of the fiscal year in July. But the grants office said in its report on the program that the brief experiment has potential for future success.

“With the...pilot program’s successful launch and three months of operation, the Grant Office believes it has showed that the pilot program could be a successful, permanent program if fully resourced and staffed,” the office wrote in the report.

— Riley Snyder

Vegas police discuss lessons learned from 318 protests in 2020

Las Vegas police say they updated policies on protests and civil unrest amid criticism over their handling of the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. 

Chuck Callaway, a lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, told the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday that the agency updated its use of force policies and protest protocol in 2020.

Those changes include placing a person in a recovery position when providing medical assistance (which ensures they are able to breathe), prohibiting the use of the lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR), making crowd dispersal orders clearer and only deploying pepper spray into a crowd if approved by a commander. 

Callaway said in his presentation that many of the arrests from the Black Lives Matter protests were made for not following dispersal orders given after police declared the assembly unlawful for no longer being peaceful. The agency found that people couldn’t hear the order or did not know where to go, so it has adapted with a policy to give dispersal orders at multiple locations around the crowd and to provide an exit route for the crowd to follow. 

Callaway said that the agency had not expected Las Vegas’ protests to turn violent as they did in other cities. But among the peaceful majority, some attendees threw frozen water bottles, bricks and rocks at officers, leading to 45 officer injuries between May 29 and June 3. Remaining protests and gatherings through July 31 did not have any more injuries recorded. 

“There was a mindset that we had been working good with the community and had good community relationships … there are always ways we can improve but I think that we assumed that it wasn't going to happen in Las Vegas,” Callaway said. “But the vast majority of people that attended them were exercising their First Amendment rights and acting peacefully.” 

During 2020, LVMPD handled 318 protests. Eventually, the police agency made a greater effort to create a dialogue with protest organizers ahead of time, which Callaway said resulted in more peaceful marches and fewer incidents by “mitigating any bad apples” that might have later joined in with the protesters.

But sometimes protest leaders didn't want to communicate with the police because of lack of trust, Callaway said. 

“We learned a lot of lessons over the past year in regards to protests and civil unrest, and so we've created a new policy to help us do a better job,” he said.

Lawmakers have even more proposals intended to curb what critics see as overly aggressive policing during protests. Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris, for example, wants to include in the law restrictions on the use of rubber bullets and rules on giving sufficient warning before releasing pepper spray into a crowd.

— Jannelle Calderon

Eliminating racial bias in criminal justice

Southern Nevada prosecutors publicly acknowledged they believe implicit racial bias exists — a declaration that could ease the passage of bills to curb the effects of unconscious stereotypes in the criminal justice system.

Lawmakers this week introduced SB108, sponsored by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would require “any person employed in the criminal justice system in this State to complete periodic training relating to implicit bias and cultural competency.” It would also require the attorney general to adopt regulations concerning that training.

The bill was also mentioned briefly in Tuesday’s Assembly Judiciary Committee meeting, when John Jones, chief Clark County deputy district attorney, said that his office does believe in the issue of implicit racial bias. Jones also said that his office has already received training on the issue and on understanding implicit bias.

During the meeting, Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D-Las Vegas) brought up a blind charging system that could help mitigate the effects of implicit racial bias.

The system, created by the Stanford Computational Policy Lab, has been used by the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, and it works by way of redacting race-related information from the case narratives that district attorneys read before making charging decisions on incoming felony cases.

Implicit racial bias was also a hot topic in 2019 when the Legislature passed AB478, which requires police officers to complete annual training on topics including racial profiling, mental health and implicit bias recognition. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) previously said that a state board overseeing officer training is not fully implementing the law, but the board’s executive director Mike Sherlock said that the board does ensure that individual agencies are complying with the objectives for each training topic.

 — Sean Golonka

By the numbers

Legislators in the Assembly Education Committee heard presentations Tuesday from two top higher education officials: system Chancellor Melody Rose and UNLV Medical School Dean Marc Kahn. Across those two presentations, a handful of numbers stuck out. 

24,000: The number of vaccinations administered by UNLV since the first two coronavirus vaccines were approved and shipped out by the federal government late last year. Kahn said his goal, as the vaccination process continues and a third vaccine candidate nears approval, is for UNLV to remain involved “until each and every eligible person in Southern Nevada is vaccinated for this potentially fatal disease.”

8 percent: The decline in enrollment across Nevada community colleges compared to the prior fall. Likely triggered by the continued widespread use of virtual learning in the wake of the COVID pandemic, Rose touted Nevada’s figures as positively robust compared to some other higher education systems that have been “slammed” by double-digit enrollment losses “upwards of 15 to 30 percent.” Rose said NSHE “very much expect[s] those folks to be back” once learning goes back to business-as-usual (a sentiment echoed by community college presidents in my conversations with them over the last week). 

2022: More precisely, late-summer or early fall 2022, about the time the new UNLV medical education building should be complete. In some stage of development for nearly half a decade, construction on the building finally began last year as part of a public-private partnership spearheaded by a private development corporation. The project will likely receive one last push from the state this session: a reinstatement of $25 million in once-cut state funding meant to cover what hasn’t been funded by private donors. 

56.9 percent: That’s the number of minority students at NSHE institutions (as of fall 2018, the date of the most recent federal data and the data presented to lawmakers). That number has risen steadily over the past decade, so much so that NSHE had become a majority-minority system by 2015. 

51,000: Number of community college students across Nevada, of which 57 percent are female and 58 percent are students of color. It’s nearly half of all NSHE students statewide, and it could also be the total number of affected students should lawmakers follow the governor’s lead on a proposed idea to create a new governance structure for the state’s four community colleges. 

— Jacob Solis

Sisolak Promise Tracker update

We’ve got an update on one (of the nearly 55) promises listed on our Sisolak Promise Tracker page.

During the 2018 campaign, Sisolak wrote in a Reno Gazette-Journal op-ed that if elected, he would “appoint experienced leaders from the private sector" to serve as economic development "ambassadors" for industries such as renewable energy, technology, manufacturing, logistics, mining and rural economic development.

“Deputy directors will be ambassadors to businesses seeking to locate and expand in Nevada, and they will be the primary liaison between my office and private sector companies in emerging industries,” the future governor wrote in the op-ed.

We’ve had that promise listed as “not addressed” since the 2019 Legislature, as there have been no public announcements regarding creation of any private-sector focused “deputy director” positions within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). Prior to the publication of our latest update of the promise tracker feature, we reached out to GOED to see if there had been any traction as it relates to that promise.

GOED got back to us a few days after publication of the update, and in a 284-word statement, made the case that the promise had been fulfilled through the hiring of GOED Director Michael Brown — the former head of Barrick Gold USA.

The office also noted that many of its current employees had private-sector experience, and that Brown’s tenure (which began in October 2019) has been largely focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just four months after Director Brown started, GOED’s role changed radically in response to the pandemic,” the office said in a statement. “That is hardly enough time to have been able to create and add new deputy director positions. Director Brown is committed to the Governor’s vision of bringing in industry experts and ambassadors into GOED when we get to the other side of this budget crisis.”

We’re keeping this promise as “not addressed” for the time being, however. There’s a difference between what Sisolak called for in that op-ed — bringing on dedicated and specified deputy directors to work with private businesses — and hiring a director of an agency with private sector experience.

— Riley Snyder

Senate Minority Leader James A. Settelmeyer, left, and Chief Justice James Hardesty on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

What we’re reading

If you missed it on Sunday, be sure to check out Michelle Rindels’ excellent overview of criminal justice issues before the Legislature, including updates on police reform, death penalty repeal, bail and other major issues.

Daniel Rothberg on why a proposal to create new specialty water courts was DOA on the first day of the session.

Jacob Solis digs into the governor’s State of the State proposal to split community colleges off into their own governing body. Lots of really interesting details, and it sounds like the idea surprised many community college leaders.

Our Freshman Orientation series continues with Assemblywoman Venicia Considine and Sen. Fabian Doñate.

Tesla agreed to donate millions of dollars to education in Nevada as part of its massive tax abatement deal with the state in 2014, but questions are lingering as to who gets to decide where those donations go, the Nevada Current’s April Corbin reports.

Nevada’s prison system wants to exclude inmates from the state’s Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights (Nevada Current).

Carson City businesses aren’t seeing the normal rush of legislative traffic (Las Vegas Sun).

Similar reporting on slower-than-normal business near the capitol (CarsonNow.org).

Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray is not only the first African-American head of the mining industry association, but the first African-American head of any trade association in Nevada (Fox5).

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 30 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 33 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 110 (May 31, 2021)

Updated at 9:28 a.m. on Thursday, February 11, 2021, to correct the spelling of interim Grants Office administrator Erin Hasty's name.

Behind the Bar: Education investments pay off, apprehension on gas stoves and federal stimulus dollars come to Nevada

Behind the Bar is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2021 Legislature. 

This week, the secretary of state says she still hasn’t found any examples of widespread voter fraud, apprehension is expressed by certain Democratic lawmakers on banning gas stoves and we have results from some high-profile K-12 education initiatives.

Check this link to manage your newsletter subscriptions. The newsletter is published on Mondays and Thursdays.

I want to hear from you! Questions, comments, observations, jokes, what you think we should be covering or paying attention to. Email me at rsnyder@thenvindy.com.


A mere 42 days ago, former President Donald Trump signed the $900 billion Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) into law, the second large federal stimulus bill designed to continue funding and deal with issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

You’d be forgiven if you’ve forgotten about that piece of news, given the avalanche of other news that happened throughout the last four weeks. Plus, the efforts by the Biden administration to pass the president’s proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package this week have slightly overshadowed the prior and relatively modest $900 billion stimulus (This is a joke; please don’t email me about this).

But federal stimulus and grants to states aren’t a magic money printer — it takes weeks to months for federal agencies to set up program guidelines, acceptable spending areas and actually disburse the money to individual states.

That’s why the state’s Interim Finance Committee is meeting this Monday, and is set to accept more than $633 million in federal grant dollars from the federal CRRSA bill to go toward emergency rental assistance and education spending. 

Usually, the IFC meets between legislative sessions — hence the “Interim” part of the name. But the committee did not have enough time before session to approve the spending (again, because of the delay between the federal legislation being signed and all the administrative processes that subsequently play out before the dollars can be transferred and spent).

The allocated federal dollars include:

  • $124.8 million for emergency rental assistance
  • $31.3 million for the Education Stabilization Fund Program, which supports public, charter and non-public (private and parochial) schools in efforts to “support activities related to safely reopening schools, continuing instruction, and addressing learning loss, including educational technology and reimbursement for COVID-19 related costs”
  • $477.3 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, which goes to public and charter schools for emergency COVID-19 relief. Expected benefits include improving remote learning, technological capacity and access, and preparing to return to “more normal operation.”

Expect a lot of rah-rah-ing and good vibes from this meeting, given the massive budget cuts lawmakers approved over the summer and the slow-drip of other cuts being presented during budget committees. (Members of IFC got to play Santa and approve allocations of CARES Act money over the past year, though they used up the remainder of the funding in December.)

I’m also keeping tabs on the Monday evening meeting of the Ways and Means committee, which as of Friday has nothing on the agenda save a helpful note to expect “BDR INTRODUCTIONS” (BDR = Bill Draft Request)

Legislative leadership has been tight-lipped about what to expect on Monday, but anytime there is an evening hearing scheduled in what is normally the legislative doldrums of early February, it's worth noting.

— Riley Snyder

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

Education investments pay off

A new report appears to confirm what some school funding advocates have preached all along — that investments in K-12 education pay dividends in student achievement.

The Nevada Department of Education recently released a report conducted by Data Insight Partners that suggests the state’s investment in early literacy translated to higher test scores. The major investments began during former Gov. Brian Sandoval’s tenure and include the following:

  • Full-day kindergarten ($41 million to $96 million per year from 2015 to 2017)
  • Class size reduction ($147 million to $189 million per year from 2015 to 2019)
  • Zoom program ($25 million per year from 2013 to 2014 and $50 million from 2015 to 2019)
  • Victory program ($25 million per year from 2016 to 2019)
  • Read by Grade 3 program ($4.9 million to $22.3 million per year from 2016 to 2019)

In 2009, Nevada’s fourth-graders performed about a year behind their peers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test, according to the report. But a decade later — when the first cohort of students exposed to the full early literacy investments took the same test — they performed on par with their peers across the nation.

Additionally, Nevada emerged as one of the fastest-improving states in terms of academic achievement.

None of this came as a surprise to Felicia Ortiz, president of the State Board of Education, when the governing body heard the presentation late last month. But the good news also sparked concern about whether the trend would continue given the state’s transition to a new K-12 funding formula. The Pupil-Centered Funding Plan — approved by lawmakers at the very end of the 2019 legislative session — moves away from those categorical funding programs in favor of weighted funding for certain student groups with extra needs.

“The new funding formula does not have the same guardrails,” she said. “It does not require the school to spend that money on these research-proven programs.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak’s proposed budget has earmarked specific money amounts for some of the existing categorical programs, such as Zoom and Victory schools, which help students learning English as a second language or those living in low-income households. But that funding would be converted to a weight as the new funding formula is implemented.

The concern echoed by Ortiz and others in the education sphere is that the new funding formula doesn’t spell out how those weighted dollars must be used. To that end, Ortiz said she will be vocal during this legislative session about calling for a tweak to the law. She wants it to include a “menu of options” that describe the type of academic initiatives, such as launching tutoring programs or hiring a reading strategist, the money can go toward.

“I think there’s (a) compromise,” she said. “I think they can do the same thing — put those same guardrails in place.”

— Jackie Valley 

Not gas stoves!

Ask just about any elected Nevada Democrat, and he or she will generally agree it’s important the state take immediate steps to address climate change.

But for Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), a proposed climate-friendly step to transition away from commercial and residential use of gas-powered stoves is a step too far.

"I'm not giving up my gas stove just yet, okay?” Monroe-Moreno said with a laugh during an Assembly Growth and Infrastructure committee meeting on Thursday. “I love my gas stove. So let's tell families that may be listening ... what we can do better on our every day things to help us get closer to [our goals]." 

Her comments followed a suggestion to move away from use of natural gas in commercial and residential buildings made during a presentation by state climate policy coordinator, Kristen Averyt, who discussed research showing that indoor gas stoves compromise air quality and lead to poor health outcomes such as higher asthma rates.

But the instant reaction to potentially losing a beloved gas stove highlights the tightrope that Democratic lawmakers will have to walk when addressing climate change — determining the tradeoff in policies that may reduce carbon emissions but also interfere with everyday life.

Monroe-Moreno, whose hobbies include cooking and spoiling her grandchildren, said banning gas stoves might also come with unintended consequences and could place undue burdens on families.

Her concerns are illustrative of a larger problem that lawmakers are grappling with in determining how to implement the statewide climate strategy, where prohibitive costs and lack of options hinder the transition away from the use of gas stoves.

“I hear you about your stove. Certainly, the members of this effort have our own relationships with gas in our personal lives,” Director of the Nevada Governor's Office of Energy David Bobzien said.

He added that the state will have to navigate a long-term transition strategy and consider cost and investment questions when developing solutions that will help the state reach its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Whether the state moves forward on legislation transitioning away from gas stoves, hope remains that the Democratic assemblywoman who campaigned as "one tough cookie" during the 2016 election will once again bring cookies for constituents, lobbyists and other lawmakers once the Legislature reopens to the public.

— Tabitha Mueller

Secretary of State: Still no evidence of large-scale voter fraud

Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s first appearance before state lawmakers since the state’s contentious 2020 election was relatively smooth.

In spite of some pointed question by Republicans (and a call to arms from the Nevada Republican Party) during the joint Assembly and Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee meeting on Thursday, Cegavske and top elections deputy Mark Wlaschin largely avoided any contentious back-and-forths of the kind that have befallen election officials in other states.

Though the hearing was intended as an agency overview, Cegavske repeated publicly what she has said amid an onslaught of unsubstantiated claims made by former President Trump’s campaign — that there is no evidence of massive voter fraud in the state’s 2020 election.

“As I have stated on numerous occasions, we take every election integrity violation and complaint seriously, and investigate all allegations,” Cegavske, a Republican, said during the hearing. “But to this day, we have seen no evidence of widespread voter fraud or voting machine errors in Nevada.”

Still, it’s expected that plenty of proposed changes to Nevada’s election system will come up during the legislative session — Wlaschin said during the presentation that the office had counted at least 27 different bill draft requests affecting elections proposed for this session alone.

Perhaps the most significant change being sought by the office is the long-awaited transition to a top-down voter registration system — defined as a “single, central platform at the state level that connected to terminals in local jurisdictions.” Nevada is one of just a handful of states that uses a “bottom-up” system, meaning that local election officials maintain their own systems for voter registration and transmit the data on a daily basis to the state.

Such a change has long been sought by the secretary of state’s office, as it would greatly simplify issues with maintaining and cleaning voter rolls. Wlaschin said funding for the transition would come from federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grant dollars; the state received $4.28 million in HAVA grant funds in 2018 and $4.8 million in 2020.

Wlaschin said the next step is for the office to develop a request for proposal and begin assessing whether the new top-down system should be implemented using an “off-the-shelf” software product, something developed internally or some kind of hybrid. But he cautioned that in talking with other states that made the transition, election officials said that Nevada should not “rush the process” and expect the transition to take a few years, meaning it won’t be in place for the next election cycle.

“This is something that unfortunately is not going to be quick,” Wlaschin said, saying the office’s rough goal was to have the new system in place for either the 2024 or 2026 election cycles.

Wlaschin also said that the office had seen “record attempts by domestic and foreign actors to disrupt our websites and services” during the months leading up to the 2020 election, while stressing that attacks focused on the public-facing website and not any voter machines, which are not connected to the Internet. He said that over a three month period, the office detected more than 5,800 “malicious actions” such as DDoS attacks, “Bad Bots,” illegal resource access targeting the website and online services for voters.

The office also saw a jump in website traffic to silvestateelection.com, the forward-facing data output of vote totals used during primary and general elections. In 2020, the website had more than 2.6 million page views and nearly 669,000 users during election week, with traffic peaking two days after Election Day (Nevada wasn’t called for President Biden until Friday morning).

In the 2016 election, the website saw much less traffic; about 620,000 page views and 118,500 users through election week.

— Riley Snyder

Senate Minority Leader James A. Settelmeyer, left, and Senator Joe Hardy on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

What we’re reading

There’s now national attention on the proposal by Blockchains LLC to allow businesses to form their own self-governing “county-within-a-county” local government. Our original story.

Our latest Freshman Orientation on Republican Sen. Carrie Buck.

Buck, plus Assembly Democratic members Edgar Flores, Selena Torres and Shannon Bilbrary-Axelrod, are speaking at a Teach for America panel on Feb. 17.

A nice gesture by the Assembly Republicans to honor Speaker Jason Frierson on Rosa Parks’ birthday during Black History Month. I was in chambers at the time and Frierson did seem surprised, at least by the plaque that they gave him.

Legendary legislative and statehouse reporter Cy Ryan has passed away. The Las Vegas Sun, his former paper, had an excellent obituary. The Nevada Appeal, where he worked after the Sun closed their Carson City bureau, also had a nice read on his life.

The head of Nevada’s Equal Rights Commission told lawmakers that employers can’t force their employees to get a COVID vaccine (Nevada Appeal).

The entrance to the COVID-19 testing area inside the legislative parking garage on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 33 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 35 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 113 (May 31, 2021)

Biden narrowly leads Trump, but major Nevada races too close to call after Election Day

Joe Biden maintains the slimmest of leads in Nevada over President Donald Trump, while the other major congressional, statewide and local races significantly narrowed early Wednesday morning.

Biden and Democratic congressional candidates running in the state’s two competitive House districts — Susie Lee and Steven Horsford — maintain small leads over their Republican opponents but the races remain too close to call, particularly after a late batch of results from Clark County helped Republicans candidates there catch up to their Democrat opponents.

Down the ballot, it appears unlikely that Democrats will have supermajorities in either chamber of the Legislature next year, while a well-funded ballot question to take the Board of Regents out of the state Constitution appears in danger amid strong rural opposition.

More than 1.2 million Nevadans cast a ballot in the general election, although it’s unclear what the total turnout will be as last-minute ballots mailed in or dropped off have not yet been tallied.

Here’s a look at the status of major races on the 2020 ballot after initial results on Election Night:

Presidential:

The presidential race in Nevada remained too close to call Wednesday morning with former Vice President Joe Biden leading over President Donald Trump by a narrow 0.6 percentage points, or 7,647 votes. Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by 2.4 percentage points in the Silver State four years ago.

The presidential election itself also remained up in the air as of early Wednesday morning, with key races in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina and Georgia still yet to be decided.

Congressional: 

In a pair of the state’s most competitive congressional races, preliminary vote tallies favored incumbent Democrats — though by narrow margins.

In the hotly contested race for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District in suburban Clark County, incumbent Democrat Susie Lee led Republican challenger Dan Rodimer by 1.5 percentage points, or 3,233 votes.

And in neighboring District 4, incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford led his Republican challenger, former one-term Assemblyman Jim Marchant, by 2.4 points, or a margin of 6,697 votes.

Meanwhile, incumbents in Nevada’s remaining two congressional districts sailed to victory after early returns, with Democratic Rep. Dina Titus securing Las Vegas’ District 1 by a 26.6 point margin, and Republican Rep. Mark Amodei winning Northern Nevada’s District 2 by a 15.8 margin as of early Wednesday morning.

Legislature:

Democratic dreams of holding super-majorities in both the Assembly and Senate appeared on thin ice after initial results were posted late Tuesday, with no clear decision yet in many of the swing districts that will determine super-majority control.

Two Las Vegas-area state Senate districts remained too close to call early Wednesday, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Democratic candidate Kristee Watson trailing their Republican opponents — April Becker and Carrie Buck, respectively. In Reno, incumbent Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert posted a notable lead over her Democratic opponent, Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, in a seat necessary for Democrats to take to capture a two-thirds majority in the state Senate.

In the Assembly, Democrats appeared to be in danger of losing three seats — two in Southern Nevada, Districts 4 and 37, and one in Northern Nevada, District 31 — while leading narrowly in a fourth competitive seat in Assembly District 29. Republicans are likely to keep control of the fifth competitive seat, Assembly District 2, where Republican Heidi Kasama is leading by a sizable margin over Democrat Radhika Kunnel.

Democrats can only afford to lose one of the four competitive seats they currently hold in the Assembly in order to retain their supermajority.

Other less competitive races that remained too close to call early Wednesday morning include Assembly Districts 21, 35 and 41.

Candidates who have won their races include:

  • Dina Neal (D) in SD4
  • Dallas Harris (D) in SD11
  • Pete Goicoechea (R) in SD19
  • Brittney Miller (D) in AD5
  • Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D) in AD6
  • Cameron "C.H." Miller (D) in AD7
  • Jason Frierson (D) in AD8
  • Steve Yeager (D) in AD9
  • Bea Duran (D) in AD11
  • Susie Martinez (D) in AD12
  • Maggie Carlton (D) in AD14
  • Howard Watts (D) in AD15
  • Cecilia Gonzalez (D) in AD16
  • Clara Thomas (D) in AD17
  • Venicia Considine (D) in AD18
  • Glen Leavitt (R) in AD23
  • Lisa Krasner (R) in AD26
  • Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D) in AD27
  • Edgar Flores (D) in AD28
  • Natha Anderson (D) in AD30
  • Alexis Hansen (R) in AD32
  • Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D) in AD34
  • Jim Wheeler (R) in AD39
  • PK O’Neill (R) in AD40
  • Alexander Assefa (D) in AD42

The 11 Assembly and three Senate candidates who were the only person running in their districts are automatically assumed to have won their races.

Local Government: 

Three Democrats emerged victorious in Clark County Commission races, but one contest was too close to call after initial results.

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, a Democrat, retained his District A seat, snagging 52 percent of the votes in initial returns. His opponent, Republican Michael Thomas, captured 48 percent. 

Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, also coasted to re-election, with 53 percent of early returns in the District B race. Her challenger, Republican Kevin Williams, garnered 44 percent of early returns. 

Democrat William McCurdy, meanwhile, handily won the District D race, replacing term-limited Commissioner Lawrence Weekly. McCurdy captured 77 percent of the early returns, while his opponent, David Washington, who’s not affiliated with a political party, only earned 23 percent. 

The District C race for Clark County Commission was neck-and-neck based on early returns. Republican Stavros Anthony received 50.8 percent of early returns, while Democrat Ross Miller grabbed 49.2 percent. The winner in this race will replace term-limited Commissioner Larry Brown.

Up north, Republican incumbent Vaughn Hartung won the District 4 race for the Washoe County Commission. Hartung grabbed 58 percent of the early returns, while his competitor, Marie Baker, snagged 42 percent. 

In the other Washoe County Commission race — for District 1 — Democrat Alexis Hill defeated Republican incumbent Marsha Berkbigler in an election upset. Hill emerged with 55 percent of the early returns, while Berkbigler received 45 percent.

Three Reno City Council members were re-elected to the board, but one race remains too close to call. Reno City Councilman Oscar Delgado won the Ward 3 race, capturing about 63 percent of the early returns. His opponent, Rudy Leon, won about 37 percent of the vote. 

Councilwoman Neoma Jardon was re-elected to represent Ward 5, winning about 54 percent of the early returns, while her opponent, Darla Fink, received about 46 percent of the vote. 

Councilman Devon Reese defeated his opponent, Eddie Lorton, to continue serving in the council’s at-large seat. Reese snagged roughly 55 percent of the early returns, while Lorton received about 45 percent.

But the Ward 1 race remains close. Reno City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus retained a slight 104-vote lead in a closely-watched race against real estate agent J.D. Drakulich. 

Supreme Court

District Court Judge Doug Herndon defeated Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo in a race for an open Nevada Supreme Court seat, capturing about 47 percent of the early returns. Fumo received about 36 percent of the vote. “None of these Candidates” made up about 18 percent of the early returns.

Herndon was running to replace Associate Chief Justice Mark Gibbons, who announced last year that he would not run for re-election. 

Fumo, who has practiced law since 1996 and served as an adjunct professor at the UNLV Boyd School of Law, won the support of progressives. Herndon, a former deputy district attorney who has sat on the bench since 2005, received support from a PAC primarily funded by Sheldon Adelson.

Ballot Questions

The campaign for Question 1, a measure that would remove the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education from the Nevada Constitution, remained too close to call after initial returns.

However, all four other ballot measures have prevailed. They include:

  • Question 2, which amends the Nevada Constitution to permit same-sex marriage
  • Question 3, which restructures the Board of Pardons
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Special session draws to a close as lawmakers pass COVID liability bill exempting hospitals, schools

Lawmakers ended the second special session of the summer shortly after midnight on Wednesday after passing a heavily lobbied bill that shields many businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits but ultimately exempted school districts, hospitals and other health care facilities from receiving the additional protections.

Members of the Assembly, after a five-hour hearing Wednesday night, voted 31-10 to grant final approval to SB4, the last major piece of legislation to advance in the special session. It mandates certain health and safety protections for hospitality workers, in addition to granting broad liability protections to nearly all businesses, governmental bodies and nonprofit groups in the state so long as they follow required local, state and federal health protocols. 

Several lawmakers described the vote as one of the most difficult of their legislative career, saying it was born of backroom deals and seemed to arbitrarily cut out important segments of the workforce. But supporters said they ultimately settled on the bill out of recognition that gaming is the lifeblood of the Nevada economy.

"Ultimately it comes down to one thing: I don't want to be back here in a few months trying to figure out where to find money on the backs of the most vulnerable among us to fill another $1.3 billion budget hole,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod. “We talk all the time about how we need to diversify our economy but the fact remains we are still a one trick pony — gaming and tourism fuel our economy.”

Four Democrats — Selena Torres, Edgar Flores, Richard Carrillo, and Brittney Miller — and six Republicans — John Ellison, Greg Hafen, Alexis Hansen, Al Kramer, Robin Titus and Chris Edwards — opposed the bill, which was approved by the Senate on a 16-5 vote earlier in the day.

In effect, the bill means that most regular businesses will be relatively protected from lawsuits if a customer contracts COVID-19 on the premises, so long as the company is following local, state and federal health mandates, such as ensuring that patrons are wearing masks. Customers will still be able to sue, but they’ll have to meet a much higher threshold for a court to allow their case to move forward.

The legislation also establishes protections for casino industry workers and outlines enhanced cleaning policies that large casino companies must follow, provisions the politically powerful Culinary Union has been long pushing for. Adolfo Fernandez, a Caesars Palace utility porter and Culinary Union member, died after contracting the virus in June, and his daughter, Irma, tearfully testified that she was carrying on a mantle of worker protection at his direction.

The two proposals were married together as SB4 in order to ensure that businesses — including gaming companies — and casino workers alike received the protections they wanted. 

However, while that mechanism ensured buy-in from some of the most politically powerful interests in the state, others were excluded from the process of drafting the bill. Hospitals and other health care facilities bemoaned their exclusion from the bill, schools argued against a last-minute amendment excluding them from liability protections and local health districts questioned why they weren’t consulted over new provisions that give them an enhanced oversight role over hotels.

“I share, like many of my colleagues, sentiments that this bill picks winners and losers and gives preferences to some special interest groups,” said Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus. “I am very disappointed and hope that future legislatures will be able to right the wrongs that are being done today.”

Hospitals protest exclusion

During a lengthy public comment period, hospitals and health care workers warned that excluding health care facilities from liability protections would lead to them having to exclude vendors and visitors to hospitals, as well as think twice about transferring patients to lower-level facilities and threaten their ability to keep beds open during a pandemic.

“If we are following clear rules from the government, and in our case CDC guidelines, we should not be excluded,” said Bill Welch, CEO of the Nevada Hospital Association. “By excluding medical facilities from this bill, access to patient care will be impacted.”

Representatives of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office tried to point to an emergency directive from April extending additional immunities from liability to providers of medical care engaged in the state’s COVID-19 response as justification for why hospitals and other health care facilities were excluded from the bill’s liability protections. 

However, Legislative Counsel Bureau General Counsel Kevin Powers told lawmakers Wednesday night that whether those additional immunities extend to health care facilities — not just their workers — is an “open question.”

“We cannot say that [the directive] provides medical facilities with the same immunity that their workers enjoy under [state law],” Powers said.

It also remained unclear as of Wednesday night who was responsible for health care facilities being excluded from the bill’s liability protections. During a hearing on the bill in the Senate early Tuesday morning, Brin Gibson, Sisolak’s interim general counsel, said the legislation was a byproduct of “some of the most important members of Nevada’s economy,” a point that several Assembly members asked about during the hearing on the bill.

Pressed during Wednesday’s hearing on who those “important members” were, Gibson demurred.

“There were myriad interests that were involved in the negotiation of this bill, from the travel and tourism industry, primarily, but there were a number of different interests,” Gibson said. “I don’t have a list.”

Sisolak’s staff, on Wednesday, acknowledged that the move was a policy decision from the governor’s office but offered no explanation as to why exactly hospitals had been excluded, other than that they believed that the facilities have enough existing protections.

At another point, the governor’s office suggested that putting in place liability protections would have been too difficult.

“This bill is around health and safety for public accommodations and also for businesses,” said Francisco Morales, a governor’s office staffer who presented the bill alongside Gibson. "To try and tackle liability protections for hospitals and medical providers ... would’ve been extremely complex, and I just want to go back and say that there are already robust protections under (state law).”

School district exemption

An amendment introduced early Wednesday carved out K-12 school districts, including charter schools, from the enhanced liability protections in the bill — a concession celebrated by two of the state’s largest teacher unions, the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) and Clark County Education Association. 

Democratic lawmakers initially pitched the amendment as a way to ensure school districts would be more cautious about sending teachers back to school without high health and safety standards in place. Democratic Sen. Julia Ratti said it would “put our schools in the position of having to think just a little bit harder about the safety standards that they're providing.”

Legislative legal staff told lawmakers that schools would still be able to use normal litigation immunity offered under existing law, but several school districts said the lack of enhanced liability standards would open them up to liability and that they should be treated the same as other governmental entities.

“If employees and students choose not to follow health and safety standards outside of school, the district shouldn’t be at fault for their actions,” Nevada Association of School Boards President Bridget Peterson said in written testimony. “The potential lawsuits will be costly and put school districts in a financial risk at a time where our budgets are being reduced and expenses are increasing.”

Churchill County School District Superintendent Summer Stephens said districts were working hard to ensure that they could address health and safety issues as they arose and that the enhanced liability protections would put them in a better position in spite of existing liability protections written into law.

“Adding schools back into the bill does not mean schools will not protect their staff members,” she said.

In the end, NSEA lobbyist Chris Daly testified against the bill, saying that it wanted to show solidarity with workers who did not benefit from the measure.

"An injury to one is an injury to all,” he said.

Health districts excluded from drafting

The heads of Nevada’s two urban health districts said on Wednesday that they were not consulted as the legislation was being drafted, despite the fact that it newly tasks them with regular inspections of hotels to ensure compliance with COVID-19-related protocols and establishes a new enforcement role.

“It’s just another burden being placed upon the health district while we’re already overextended in our response to COVID-19,” Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick said.

The health districts have also raised concerns that, while the bill appropriates additional funding to them, it only makes that funding available through the end of the calendar year. SB4 appropriates $2 million to the Southern Nevada Health District and $500,000 to the Washoe County Health District.

Michelle White, chief of staff to Sisolak, said that the governor’s office understands the health districts’ concerns about the time frame of the funding but that they are “completely confident” that the health districts “understand the critical nature of this work to protect Nevada’s employees and our economy.” She added that health districts already have existing authority and expertise with public accommodations, such as hotels, and so they seemed like an “obvious choice” to take on the new role.

“We are incredibly sympathetic with the health districts that they can do this as an expansion,” White said. “We will be a very strong partner with those health districts as we have been and can’t be more appreciative of the work and partnership that they’ve had thus far with us.”