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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SENATE

Ben Kieckhefer: 36

Heidi Seevers Gansert: 33

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Goicoechea: 20

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

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

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

Joe Hardy: 17

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

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

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

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

Scott Hammond: 14

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

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

Keith Pickard: 6

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

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

Ira Hansen: 5

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

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

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

Carrie Buck: 3

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

James Settelmeyer: 2

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

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

ASSEMBLY

Jill Tolles: 92

Tom Roberts: 90

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Hardy: 82

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

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

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

Glen Leavitt: 55

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

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

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

Heidi Kasama: 52

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

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

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

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

Lisa Krasner: 36

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

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

Gregory Hafen: 30

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

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

Alexis Hansen: 18

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

Robin Titus: 5

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

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

Annie Black: 3

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

The Nevada Legislative Freedom Caucus

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

P.K. O’Neill: 19

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

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

Jim Wheeler: 6

Jill Dickman: 6

Andy Matthews: 5

John Ellison: 3

Richard McArthur: 3

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

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

Which Republicans broke up unanimous votes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Democrats dissented from their party?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$15 million earmarks on American Rescue Plan funds

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Closing ‘classic car’ loophole

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Permanent expanded mail voting and ballot initiative withdrawals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Authorizing cannabis consumption lounges

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Taxing and regulating short-term rentals

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Bill removing citizenship requirement for higher education scholarships revived

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

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

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

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

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

It also addresses other higher education inequities by:

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller

Deportation defense funds

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Transmission build-out, electric vehicle charging infrastructure bill passes

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

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

The measure previously passed unanimously out of the Senate. 

— Riley Snyder

Minimum energy efficiency levels for appliances

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

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller

Overhauling interim legislative structure

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Fifth time’s the charm to decriminalize traffic tickets 

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

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

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

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

— Jannelle Calderon

Nevada joins and leapfrogs primary states

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

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

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

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

— Jannelle Calderon

Allocating federal COVID aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

DMV repayment

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

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.

Innovation Zones study still sees issues raised by Storey County, others

Although it has been a month since the contentious proposal creating autonomous “Innovation Zones” was scrapped and turned into a study, the concept has continued to receive pushback as it moves through the Legislature. 

The concurrent resolution, SCR11, would establish a committee of six appointed lawmakers to study the Innovation Zone proposal, including evaluating its effects on economic development, natural resources, the environment and local tax revenues. The measure passed out of the Senate on May 19 on a voice vote.

During its hearing in the Assembly Committee of Revenue on Tuesday, comments from lobbyist Mary Walker in neutral testimony, representing Carson, Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties sparked a conversation about tax revenue and future growth concerns in Storey County — the likely location of any Innovation Zone, as the concept backers Blockchains Inc. owns about 67,000 acres of land and spearheaded efforts in favor of the concept earlier this year. Blockchains did not testify in the committee hearing.

Under the original proposal, Blockchains would be allowed to create a new form of local government operating as a “county-within-a-county,” but the measure brought up concerns it would receive all of the tax revenue from technology companies located within the “Zone,” causing Storey County to miss out on taxes it would otherwise receive. Opponents also raised concerns about the Tesla Gigafactory, which has property tax abatements nearing expiration in 2024 and is expected to generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for state and local governments.

Austin Osborne, Storey County manager, brought up the county’s 2016 master plan which includes a high density, urban housing development near the tech properties.

“We're not looking for ranch houses on one acre parcels with horses on that property, we have places in Storey County for that and we want to protect those areas for that,” Osborne said. “[This area is] for the millennials, the Generation Z, the high-tech people, people that want to live very close to innovation.” 

Although Osborne and the county were in neutral on SCR11, he said if a study was to move forward, it should compare the progress of the proposed Innovation Zone project versus what development would look like with Storey County's existing framework — touting that zoning and planning process takes only about 180 days, depending on the developer’s plan. 

In March, Storey County Commissioners voted to oppose the Innovation Zones concept as a bill.

“As long as the state of Nevada puts in the necessary structure in place to manage those [technological] resources appropriately, we're totally in support of it, no problem… As far as the separation from local government and everything related to, the commissioners are strongly opposed to that,” Osborne said. “If an interim study does move forward, we're going to find that really it's not necessary for this method to move things for what I think the goals are placed here… We really are the Innovation Zone already.”

Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) shared some of her reservations with economic development bills and projects that oftentimes lack consideration of how it might affect the area, from infrastructure and affordable housing, to the environment and water consumption.

“My experience with a lot of projects where we say that we want to focus on economic development, is its economic development in a vacuum, without consideration for these other things,” Benitez-Thompson said. “When we talk about impacts, I think this conversation is long overdue… We've got to have a conversation about how this all plays out, and how the next decade looks regionally.”

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.

Assembly approves bill expanding legal resources to immigrant Nevadans

Finding an attorney to represent them in immigration court can be a challenge for people facing deportation proceedings who often don’t have the financial means to seek legal counsel.

In an attempt to bridge the gap, Nevada Assembly lawmakers on Wednesday approved AB376, which allocates $500,000 in state funds for the UNLV Immigration Clinic to expand its no-cost legal services for immigrants.

The bill advanced along party lines, with Republicans voting against it. Bill sponsor and Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas) introduced AB376 during a hearing in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday alongside Majority Floor Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), who called the funding allocation a “smart use of money… an exciting use of money.”

“We have folks in the community who are doing really great work who are providing pro bono services to our immigrant community, and we know we have populations in need, so how do we help our helpers? And the answer was, get more support to the UNLV Immigration Clinic,” Benitez-Thompson said.

Nevada has the largest per-capita population of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Michael Kagan, director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic, said the funds would be used to create a community advocacy office off the UNLV campus intended to be more accessible for the community and to hire two new lawyers as part of the Immigrant Justice Corps, a fellowship program for law school graduates interested in practicing immigration law.

In addition to allocating half a million dollars to the clinic, the measure would also implement the “Keep Nevada Working Act,” establishing a task force headed by the lieutenant governor’s office and intended to generate strategies to bolster the state’s workforce and economy, including expanding pathways for immigrant workers and entrepreneurs.

The measure also requires the task force submit a report to the Legislative Counsel Bureau by July 1, 2022 with a summary of the work accomplished and recommendations for legislation.

Another section of AB376 requires the attorney general’s office publish model policies for local law enforcement agencies with the priorities of fostering trust between communities and state or local law enforcement, limit to the fullest extent legally possible interactions of state or local law enforcement with federal immigration authorities for the purpose of immigration enforcement. A subsequent section includes the limitation of immigration enforcement at public schools, colleges and universities, health care facilities and courthouses.

Various groups turned out in support of the bill, including the Nevada System of Higher Education, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and the ACLU of Nevada.

“It's a policy failure that we have not declared legal counsel a right in immigration proceedings, and you have an opportunity to take a step forward by passing this bill and appropriating these funds to this program,” said Holly Welborn, policy director of ACLU Nevada.

The bill also saw opposition from the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association, members of the Independent American Party and the Nevada Republican Party.

Eric Spratley, speaking on behalf of the sheriffs and chiefs association, pointed to the provision in AB376 that requires the attorney general’s office provide model policies for local law enforcement agencies to adopt. He expressed frustration at the lack of a fiscal note in regards to the funds it would take for local law enforcement agencies to implement new policies.

“Each Nevada law enforcement jurisdiction is different and unique,” he said. “Law enforcement leaders across Nevada are elected or appointed by the people of that jurisdiction, and as such, their local law enforcement operations have policies which reflect how those Nevada residents want their jurisdictions to function.”

Torres clarified that local agencies are allowed to opt out of the model policies drawn up by the attorney general’s office.

“Over the recent months we've seen local law enforcement agencies asking, even in interviews in the media, for there to be model policies and expressing distress that there was no model policies. This would give the opportunity for them to create model policies and local law enforcement agencies can choose to adopt those if it's so appropriate,” she said.

AB376 has survived key legislative deadlines after it was declared exempt in April and has been significantly watered down from its original version, which focused more explicitly on curbing collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities (such as ICE).

For years, Nevada immigrants rights advocates have fought for the end of ICE detainers, practices by local law enforcement that hold undocumented immigrants for no legal reason other than to allow federal authorities to pick them up. Advocates argue this violates immigrants' constitutional rights.

A few Nevada agencies continue to participate in the 287(g) program, a formal partnership with ICE, including Nye County, but the informal practice of detaining immigrants for small infractions and flagging them on a database for federal authorities continues.

The measure must still pass through the Senate before heading to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s desk by Monday, when the session ends.

The various costs of deportation

Kagan, the UNLV Immigration Clinic director, said the $500,000 investment from the state general fund to the clinic over the biennium “might be more like $900,000 in impact,” explaining that deportation proceedings cost Nevada money and families separated by deportation end up depending on the state for more resources.

“When someone from Nevada is deported, that means that a family loses a breadwinner,” Kagan said. “That means a child loses a parent, that means that children are more likely to go into foster care, that means that schools may have additional costs for interventions to help that family, and I hope, for the sake of child safety, that is ultimately the state's responsibility and that's why it's important for us to do that work.”

When people avoid deportation and obtain legal permission to work, they can be self-sufficient and pay their taxes, he said, adding that a similar program in New York City generated $1 million in new tax revenue by expanding access to legal work permissions.

People are able to avoid deportation four out of five times, or 80 percent of the time, when they have lawyers to represent them in court, Kagan said, adding that the opposite is true as well.

“Just because they're in immigration court does not mean that people need to be deported,” he said.

The immigration clinic is the only place people facing deportation can turn to, he said, as most don’t have the means to hire a lawyer, especially unaccompanied children, who often face immigration proceedings alone. Immigration courts are civil courts, meaning that children facing deportation do not have a right to a government-appointed attorney, which is the case for criminal courts.

Kagan said unaccompanied children are the largest group of clients the clinic works with.

“Most of our child clients have been middle school or high school age but we have had clients as young as three when they first walked in the door. That's not something law school prepares you for very well, that's not a normal kind of client, but those children are victims of violence in their countries and often of child abuse as well,” he said.

With the goal to provide legal services to a growing population of people, Kagan said the funds allocated in AB376 could help propel the immigration clinic’s reach further in the long term.

“It would be the beginning of something bigger,” he said. “This is essential for the community in which we live, for our neighbors, and generally for the value that when someone's family is in jeopardy, they should not stand alone.”

Lawmakers review price tags of expanded mail voting, earlier presidential primary bills

With less than a week left in the session, lawmakers are finally moving to process three major election-related bills aimed at moving Nevada up the presidential primary calendar, permanently expanding mail voting and upgrading the state’s voter registration database.

The three bills were heard Tuesday morning during a meeting of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, with Democratic lawmakers and progressive groups heralding the measures as ways that the state can make it easier to vote, but with Republicans questioning the proposed costs and benefits of several of the bills.

The trio of measures, all of which were presented by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), all had hearings earlier in the session, but the hearings on Tuesday were meant to go over the potential budgetary effects They also signal that legislators are preparing to queue up the measures for floor votes and rapid processing through the final days of the session. After the initial morning hearings, members of the committee voted out all three of the bills late into the night on Tuesday.

Most of the opposition was focused on AB321, a bill seeking to permanently expand mail voting in the state and set in stone the temporary changes adopted ahead of the 2020 election. The bill would make Nevada the sixth state to adopt a largely mail voting system, though voters would be allowed to opt out of the system and vote in person if they choose.

Much of the hearing focused on disagreements over how much the bill would cost. Democratic lawmakers questioned a fiscal note submitted by the secretary of state’s office estimating implementation costs would run north of $5.2 million — Frierson said that price tag “simply doesn't necessarily reflect the reality” of election costs, as the 2020 election (a presidential election) only cost $3.9 million.

“I think there's a tendency for folks to look for the ideal, and say ‘well, since we're opening up anyway, let's find an ideal way to do all of this,’ which is not always necessary or practical,” he said.

Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Mark Wlaschin said that changes in election turnout between presidential election years and midterms wouldn’t have a significant impact on the cost of largely mail elections, as all 1.8 million registered voters in the state would be mailed a ballot unless they opted out. 

He said the office also planned to increase the number of ballot drop boxes from about 120 to around 220 (at a cost of $1,500 each), and said the agency did not fully reimburse counties for election costs in 2020 because they had access to federal CARES Act dollars and other funding sources.

Though Wlaschin said the bill could lead to potential cost savings as a larger percentage of the electorate casts votes by mail (lowering the number of in-person polling places needed), he said that would likely not happen over the current biennium and that the secretary of state’s office opposed the bill because of the “negative fiscal impact it would have on the state.”

Wlaschin said the office also believed that it would need around $660,000 to help with a marketing and education campaign on the proposed changes, but Frierson said the agency’s concerns over cost did not take into account potential cost savings from the bill and that other options existed for voter education.

“While we on a couple of occasions have talked about voter education, that clearly was not an issue for the secretary of state before now,” Frierson said. “And there are organizations in the community that do this for free, who would be more than willing to partner with the secretary of state at a significant decrease if not zero cost to do voter education in the community.”

Support and opposition on AB321 fell largely along expected lines — organizations including the Culinary Union, ACLU of Nevada, Battle Born Progress, AARP Nevada and Silver State Voices testified in support, while the Nevada Republican Party (which has run ads opposing the legislation), the Independent American Party and Nevada Right to Life opposed the measure.

The committee heard another potentially significant change to state election procedures in the form of AB126, which proposes that the state leapfrog New Hampshire and Iowa to move to first place in the presidential primary calendar. Frierson, the bill’s sponsor, also presented a conceptual amendment that removes language related to a change in candidate filing deadlines, but otherwise keeps the provisions of the bill in place.

“In conversations both with our local elected officials and with the courts … it would create problems outside of our state budget that outweighed the benefits, as we originally contemplated,” he said.

Wlaschin said the secretary of state’s office estimated that implementing a presidential primary election (as opposed to a party-managed caucus) would cost about $5.2 million per cycle. That fiscal note irked Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), because the next presidential election in 2024 falls outside the current budget cycle.

“The question is, why would you submit a fiscal note on something that will not impact us in this biennium?” she said. “This Legislature, this committee, deals with the budget for this biennium only.”

Wlaschin said the bill would not have an effect on the current budget, “but there will be something later on down the line.”

The bill attracted support from progressive and Democrat-aligned groups, but drew opposition from the state Republican Party. Republican National Committee member Jim DeGraffenreid said the bill would be a waste of resources as states such as New Hampshire were fully prepared to move around their primary dates to keep their plum spot on the nominating calendar.

“New Hampshire has a state law that says they must hold the first primary in the nation, and they will hold their primary as early as necessary to remain first,” he said. “We have no ability to change the laws of the state of New Hampshire, and so this is a waste of our five and a half million dollars to chase that impossible goal.”

Still, Democrats said they were eager to advance the bill if only to get away from the presidential caucus system — Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) said she wasn’t “offended” by the fiscal note and that it was time to “evolve” past the caucus process.

“If we make the process easier to engage in, people will engage,” she said. “We have an electorate that cares, we have an electorate that wants to show up, and all we have to do is remove barriers, and they will engage in a way that our founders absolutely dreamed of.”

Members of the committee also reviewed AB422, a bill that would gradually shift Nevada from a county-led, bottom-up voter registration system to a state-led, top-down system. Frierson said that such a system would make the state’s voter registration system much more efficient and called the bill a “step in the right direction to streamline our state government.”

“Everyone who has been involved with elections has indicated an interest in moving us to a top-down system,” he said. The secretary of state’s office originally submitted a $9.2 million fiscal note on the bill, but Wlaschin said the office intended to use $4.8 million from Nevada’s share of grant funds from the Help America Vote Act and said the measure would not have a financial impact on the state for the upcoming budget cycle.

Updated at 9:45 p.m. to update that all three bills passed out of committee on Tuesday evening.

Assembly votes to censure member Annie Black for not following COVID rules

Assemblywoman Annie Black standing with her right hand raised

Members of the Assembly took a rare step in voting on party lines Thursday to censure Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) for violating a requirement that people in the Legislature wear masks unless they are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Assembly voted 26-16 to affirm that Black was in violation of a new policy announced the day earlier that generally allowed vaccinated people to be in the building maskless if they are vaccinated. Black has been vocal against the mask rule in place for almost the entirety of the session and claimed a win in an email newsletter for catalyzing for the policy change.

“No one knows if I’ve gotten the vaccine,” Black said in a recent newsletter. “And frankly, it’s nobody’s business but my own. It’s my body, my choice.”

According to adopted Assembly standing rules, lawmakers are required to cover their face and nose with a mask at nearly all times while in the legislative building, and to follow all CDC guidelines on social distancing. Any member found in violation of the rule “shall not vote or speak on the floor or committee except to explain and apologize for the breach, until the member has made satisfaction to the House for the breach.”

Black remained on the Assembly floor without a mask after the vote.

Assembly Majority Floor Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) said the Legislative Counsel Bureau had been asking members to confirm their vaccination status. The LCB notified legislative leaders that three members had not circled back on the request.

“It's not that we know or not [whether the three members are vaccinated]. They haven't confirmed,” she said. 

Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) said in a brief interview on Thursday that a sergeant in arms asked her to leave the Assembly floor on Thursday if she would not wear a mask. Dickman participated remotely in the meeting.

“I am not sharing my personal medical information with anyone,” she said. “Apparently we have de facto vaccine passports in the Legislative Building.”

Reporters Riley Snyder and Tabitha Mueller contributed to this report.

Lawmakers add back $93 million to higher ed budget for faculty, staff positions, though millions more in cuts remain

The Nevada Legislature building

With just two weeks to go before the end of the 2021 legislative session, state lawmakers boosted the Nevada System of Higher Education’s (NSHE) budget with the allocation of more than $93 million in federal COVID relief dollars aimed at lifting a system-wide hiring freeze.

Legislators in a joint budget meeting on Saturday approved spending part of the state’s $2.7 billion share of American Rescue Plan to restore funding for an estimated 487 full time system positions kept vacant or on track to be eliminated — a partial reversal after lawmakers on Friday split along party lines in a vote to close that budget with $169 million in cuts still in place. 

The decision to backfill those cuts had been hinted at by Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), who on Friday said “we’re not done yet” on the NSHE budget prior to approval of the recommended 12 percent cuts. One day later, Carlton reiterated that “it’s not over until it’s over.”

“We were trying to get where we needed to be, we needed to have information and guidance, we needed to be able to allow staff to get their work done,” she said. “So I just wanted to make sure that folks understand that as we move through this process, it's an ever changing world because we don't know what's on the other side of the curtain right now.”

Lawmakers stressed that the federal dollars needed to be allocated only for restoring and hiring positions — a sentiment agreed to by NSHE Chief Financial Officer and chief lobbyist Andrew Clinger.

“I'm happy to make sure that we as a system, as we implement these funds, that it goes specifically for position restorations and does not get moved to any other spending category, so that it will only be used to restore positions,” he said on Saturday. “We are in agreement with that.”

Still, the federal influx doesn’t immediately reverse all of the proposed spending cuts to NSHE. The system is still facing a roughly $75.7 million combined cut over the biennium, nearly all of which will be absorbed through operational cuts, Clinger said. 

But with expectations that tens of millions of dollars available through additional higher education-specific federal aid will cover most, if not all, of expected institutional shortfalls from non-state revenue sources, Saturday’s decision brings the system’s budget as close to whole as it has been since the pandemic began. 

Even so, how this position funding will be treated in future sessions could still be subject to change. Because it is a one-shot injection of funds being used to restore permanent positions, rather than a more traditional increase to the system’s base budget, whether lawmakers keep the system’s budget at the currently proposed level in future sessions remains “an open question,” Clinger said.

Clinger told The Nevada Independent that he hopes the amount of the federal aid will be treated as part of the system’s base budget in the future, but said the ultimate policy decision will fall to the governor and the Legislature in two years’ time. 

A partial funding restoration

Recent joint budget committee decisions took advantage of the recently-released broad spending guidelines for the state’s $2.7 billion share of the $1.9 trillion federal American Rescue Plan legislation passed in March. 

Lawmakers had previously voted to preliminarily use that same pot of money to backfill more than 300 vacant state employee positions at an estimated cost of more than $20 million over the two year budget cycle. 

But Democratic legislative leaders have been more cautious about backfilling the governor’s proposed 12 percent cuts to the NSHE budget — in part because of other federal relief dollars targeting higher education institutions, but also because of a desire to wait for federal guidance and long-simmering tensions between the Legislature and NSHE.

“At this moment in time, we can make this decision,” Carlton said. “Forty-eight hours ago or so, we couldn't make this decision because we weren't there yet.”

In total, lawmakers approved spending $46.6 million over the upcoming fiscal year and $46.5 million in the 2023 fiscal year to fund position restorations and lift temporary hiring freezes for administrative and academic faculty positions.

NSHE estimated that the approved funding would restore 487 positions, but not all divisions of the higher education system provided specific hiring estimates. Clinger said it was because the system could not identify all potential impacted vacancies, saying “it wasn't in any attempt to not be transparent.”

According to documents shared with the committee, the federal funding will help fund 100 positions at UNLV, 122 positions at UNR and dozens of positions at state and community colleges.

A partisan split emerges on the budget

Prior to Saturday’s actions, Republican lawmakers had criticized the move to close the higher education budget with substantial cuts, with several pushing for a firm commitment to review higher education accounts alongside other fiscal needs. 

The nine Republicans on the joint committee, which includes both Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance, ultimately voted as a bloc to reject the motion to close the budgets without receiving such assurances from leading Democrats on Thursday.

“It's not just cuts to universities,” Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) said. “This is $25 million out of the College of Southern Nevada and $10 million out of the new med school, where we just graduated our first class and we're celebrating. It’s $1.2 million out of a college scholarship program that supports our lowest income minority students who are going to college for the first time in their families. I think we can do better, and I hope that we get there.” 

Committee Democrats defended their decision in the same manner as they have throughout the session, pointing to the need to balance limited available long-term revenue sources against a bevy of needy programs. 

Among those defending the cuts was Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), who pushed back on Kieckhefer’s assertion and said it was “a little bit frustrating when we paint a partisan picture” of difficult budgeting decisions. 

“I always appreciate when there's a tough decision that we all of a sudden want to talk about minorities and low income and the most challenging,” Frierson said. “I think that we are in this together, and in particular on this committee, it requires that we make tough decisions and that we rely on each other.”

More broadly, Democrats chafed at criticism that they unfairly cut higher education budgets relative to other state funding needs. Instead, they said, NSHE institutions have received hundreds of millions in federal aid, including tens of millions more in direct aid for students, all while the state mulled how to fund other crucial areas such as K-12 education or critical health services. 

“I've said this to almost every NSHE advocate and lobbyist that I have ever met with, that I appreciate where they are, [but] that if I have a choice between kindergarteners and college kids, I'm there for the kindergarteners,” Carlton said. “They need my voice, they need our voice.”

Carlton was also broadly critical of the opacity of the system’s budget, saying that much of its money was “behind a curtain” and that “sometimes it’s hard to make tough decisions on NSHE when you don’t have all the data.”

Carlton reiterated that her position on higher education cuts was not adversarial, but rather one that demanded “accountability and explanation.”

Democratic leaders also sounded off in frustration against charges that cuts implied they did not care about college students. That included Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), who told the committee that “hard decisions'' made last year to cut NSHE’s budget came in part because it was well-funded per-pupil to begin with, and also because it could rely on investment-linked rainy day accounts to absorb much of the immediate budgetary damage where other agencies could not.

Though not specific, Benitez-Thompson’s comments appeared to reference a $50 million one-shot payment to institutions last June from a market-linked “market fluctuation account” traditionally used by NSHE to fund special projects or deferred maintenance costs.

“We do pretty well at this, so the accusation that we don't care enough or we don't do enough is always one that sits sideways with me, because I think it is factually untrue,” Benitez-Thompson said. “And I think that to paint this committee, any of us, as in a spot of being less-than-concerned about students is just hyperbolic rhetoric that does nothing to actually help us have sincere conversations.”

Speaking to The Nevada Independent prior to Saturday’s meeting, Clinger said he credited the governor’s office and the Legislature for building NSHE’s budget back up in the years following the great recession, such that per-pupil funding int he system — measured as funding per-full-time equivalent (FTE) student — is above the national average

But not all funding metrics tell the same story, and Nevada’s per-pupil numbers benefit from a lower number of students in the higher education system than other similarly-sized states. 

“If you look at it on a per capita basis, it definitely does not come out as favorable, because we unfortunately, don't have as many high school students going on to college, perhaps, as other states do,” Clinger said. “But the students that are in our system, which is what the FTE-basis compares, the state has done a good job of funding those students.”

Perhaps the greatest sticking point during discussions has been massive tranches of federal aid provided to NSHE through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Created as part of the original CARES Act and boosted through additional funding last December and again through the American Rescue Plan, HEERF provided an early lifeline to universities, colleges and students nationwide that suddenly began treading water last year as revenues dried up overnight. 

That was also the case in Nevada, where three rounds of HEERF money amounted to more than $369 million, of which roughly $160 million was set aside for direct student aid. 

At multiple junctures this session, Democratic lawmakers have pointed to the HEERF aid as a key mitigating factor for NSHE, providing tens of millions in relief that was designed to help higher education institutions, specifically. 

But nearly all of that money, according to an NSHE budget document shared with legislators this week, has been used by institutions to cover millions in lost non-state revenues such as reduced campus housing occupancy or lost parking fees.

As a result, NSHE and other higher education advocates have argued that the federal money through HEERF — though vast — would do little to help cover other losses.

“There are a lot of other impacts to the institutions sort of outside of the state operating budget,” Clinger said.

Clinger added that there are factors that may yet mitigate the severity of NSHE’s budget woes through the next two years, though. 

Most notably, NSHE’s original estimated budget reduction was based on an assumption that non-state revenues, such as that from residence halls, will continue to remain sharply down from pre-pandemic levels through much of 2022 and into 2023. 

Should the impacts of the pandemic recede faster than expected as vaccinations increase and health risks fall, Clinger said non-state revenues could bounce back sooner than current projections. 

With positions restored, some challenges remain

As administrators and faculty await final word on budgets for the next two years, the restoration of hundreds of positions held vacant for the last year will likely kickstart efforts over the next year to rebuild the somewhat-depleted ranks of faculty and staff. 

The restorations come at an especially crucial time for the state’s two universities, as each looks to maintain its designation among the top research institutions in the country. 

In late 2018, both UNLV and UNR achieved a major milestone as each received a so-called “R1” designation from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. A classification handed out to 130 universities every three years based on how much research is conducted at a given institution, administrators at both UNR and UNLV said the status came only after years of investment in research faculty, support and infrastructure. 

But with few indications of the long term impacts of the recent cuts, the continuation of the Carnegie classification through the next evaluation period is not certain.

“You are only an R1 university as long as the last ranking that came out ranked you as an R1 university,” UNLV Provost Chris Heavey said. 

Unlike nearly every other aspect of the university experience, research labs largely continued operations unimpeded through the pandemic. Working around mandated masks, social distancing requirements and other limits on operating procedures, UNLV Interim Vice President for Research Lori Olafson said research lab operations “didn’t have any unintended consequences related to the pandemic."

As much as the research itself was unscathed, however, the number of faculty across the system was a different story. 

In an effort to curb hemorrhaging revenues, Gov. Steve Sisolak mandated steep statewide cuts early last year of 4 percent, with plans to cut an additional 16 percent through the next fiscal year (a number that rose for NSHE to 19.8 percent by the close of last year’s special session). 

To comply with those cuts and in an effort to prevent the level of layoffs seen during the Great Recession, the Board of Regents pushed to approve measures for system-wide furloughs and hiring freezes as a means to dramatically reduce operating costs. 

More than a year later, those freezes — affecting roughly 370 faculty positions across the eight NSHE institutions — are still in place, but now likely to be lifted after approval of the federal funding on Saturday.

“The practical implications of this would be that the hiring freeze would be lifted, sooner rather than later, so that staffing could be put in place for the upcoming school year,” Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) said on Saturday.

UNR Vice President for Research and Innovation Mridul Gautam said that the impact of those open positions stretch far beyond research programs alone. 

“It's not just a research enterprise in isolation,” Gautam said. “They attract good graduate students, they attract good undergraduate students. Those undergraduate students graduate, and they tell their friends about it. And they come back, our enrollment goes up with good solid students, we can reach out and make education accessible to everybody … So every component is affected when we get resources and gets affected when we don't get the resources from the state. It's not just the faculty.”

Complicating matters further is the lingering issue of faculty compensation. Nevada faculty have complained for years that a recession-era limitation on merit pay — one that functionally eliminated any faculty merit raises for a decade — has limited upward mobility and made it difficult for some to justify rejecting job offers from other universities. 

It’s a problem that predates the pandemic, and it’s one that remains difficult to address as Nevada’s higher education funding increases have generally trailed regional rivals in the long term, administrators said. 

“Part of the reality is if you don't have a competitive pay structure for faculty, your most productive faculty leave because they get recruited away to other places,” Heavey said. “So we don't have a silver bullet solution to that but we think it's something that the state really needs to address.”

Lawmakers appear poised to approve a 1 percent pool of university funding that would be used to pay for merit raises. The move has been praised by faculty advocates, but still criticized in part because it falls short of the 2 percent state-funded merit pool that existed before the recession. 

University professors — especially professional, tenure-track faculty — are far from the lowest-paid employees of any given university. But, UNR economics professor Elliott Parker said those salaries do not exist in a vacuum, and a sustained lack of pay increases in good economic times has eroded willingness among some to stick around through the bad.

“After a while, you kind of break the loyalty, and some of your best faculty will go,” he said. 

Higher education institutions now also must face a new logistical problem — filling nearly 200 vacant positions across both UNR and UNLV that have been held open for more than a year. 

Those positions are not necessarily static. Both UNR and UNLV are massive employers with more than 10,000 employees between them, pre-pandemic. As a result, Heavey described the vacancies as rolling, with the most pressing ones — those that may jeopardize the accreditation of a certain program — exempted from the freeze. 

“The churn of positions within the university is very large,” Heavy said. “In a given week we might lose five people, and then we might say okay we're going to refill two. And now, because we've held so many vacant, now we're getting closer to a net-even or even starting to grow back a little bit in terms of the total number of faculty that we have.”

Dozens of the positions in question are for professional faculty, which, unlike classified staff such adjuncts or graduate student jobs, can only be filled after a months-long search process. 

Kent Ervin, Vice President of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, said a number of searches planned at UNR this spring had already been canceled. However, if searches were to begin again this fall, according to Gautam, many would be complete by the start of the next academic year in the fall of 2022.

But lost in the debate over whether lawmakers will restore lost money, administrators said, is the possibility of boosting higher education funding in the long term — and the costs associated with not doing so. 

A case in point, according to Gautam, was a lost opportunity to participate in a National Institutes of Health (NIH) program meant to speed the development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics through clinical trials. UNR was initially approached by NIH for participation in the program in late November, but the university “didn’t have the infrastructure,” and potential research partners at Renown Health and the Veterans Affairs hospital were “busy with what they were doing.”  

“Those things don't come to mind when we're when these cuts happen, because we're just trying to maintain the status quo and barely managing to maintain the status quo,” he said. “In fact, we’re falling behind — forget about advancing, or building things that we need to build in the state. Those things don't happen when these cuts come around.”

Assembly, Senate split over funding for higher education research grants

State lawmakers are split, and not just along party lines, over continuing funding of an established grant program aimed at spurring research and economic development through allocations to state universities. 

During a joint budget hearing on Monday, members of the Senate and Assembly split over funding for the Nevada Knowledge Account (also called the Knowledge Fund), a grant program for higher education facilities (UNLV, UNR and the Desert Research Institute) aimed at spurring “research and the commercialization of research in areas the state has targeted for economic growth.” The program was initially created under former Gov. Brian Sandoval nearly a decade ago.

Gov. Steve Sisolak’s recommended budget called for funding $5 million into the program split evenly over the two-year budget, but members of the Assembly motioned to only fund one year of the grant program at $2.5 million. Assembly members said that funding level matched the budget approved by lawmakers in 2019, and that increasing funding to the program now amid other proposed budget cuts didn’t feel like the right step.

“It just feels like with everything that we're doing across all budgets, that it's a win to keep the status quo, or it's a win to restore cuts that we made in the special session, and that trying to go above and beyond that funding for any particular program right now just doesn't seem prudent with what we're doing in other places in the budget,” Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez Thompson said.

However, members of the Senate Finance Committee unanimously voted against that recommendation, with senators in both political parties saying that the state’s financial woes amid the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need to invest in grant programs that could help broaden the tax base.

“Diversification of our economy is the really the only way we're going to get out of this mess,” Senate Finance Chair Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) said. “And this is a key component to helping us do that.”

The failure to agree on a budget recommendation for the program means the item will have to be hashed out during the process called “budget differences,” where Assembly and Senate members meet to reconcile differences in budget recommendations between the two legislative chambers. The deadline for budget differences is on May 15.

Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) acknowledged that the issue would be addressed by budget committees later in the session, but said that lawmakers needed to keep all parts of the budget in perspective.

““There was a saying in the last fiscal crisis: save the seeds. Farmers never eat the seeds, you always save those because you want to be able to grow a program again, you never want to totally devastate a program,” she said. “So being able to keep it moving forward, when you consider some of the cuts and the situations that we're in right now, really is almost a win in some ways by not going backwards, by staying status quo.”

According to the budget closing document, the Knowledge Account was first created in the 2011 session as part of the overall restructuring of Nevada’s economic development apparatus. The program was funded for the first time in the 2013 budget cycle to the tune of $5 million per fiscal year, which continued until the 2019 Legislature (where lawmakers allocated only $2.5 million over the two budget years).

To-date, the grant program has received $32.5 million in state dollars. Though the program has no standard Return on Investment metrics (as it funds many different types of programs), the Governor’s Office of Economic Development estimates that the Knowledge Account program has leveraged $39 million in sponsored research contracts, led to 67 patents filed, 38 companies relocating to Nevada and 17 spinoff companies formed.

According to a summary of the Knowledge Fund’s 2020 annual report, the program helped fund 11 projects between November 2019 and October 2020, including projects related to robotics, gaming and hospitality, applied research, sports research, water innovation and autonomous vehicles.

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.