To diversify Nevada’s economy, lawmakers push for study on developing hemp industry

A man in a plaid shirt and blue baseball cap standing in a field of hemp

Nevada lawmakers focused on the ever-present task of diversifying the state’s economy are considering a novel way to help jumpstart Nevada's economy — conducting an interim study on the state’s hemp industry. 

For 70 years, hemp cultivation was illegal in the United States until the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) said during a presentation on the study proposed as part of SCR4 to the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections on Thursday. 

Despite the ban, the U.S. remained one of the largest importers of the plant, and a previous iteration of the Farm Bill allowed states such as Nevada to start their own limited pilot program of legal hemp growth.

But approval of the 2018 federal legislation didn’t solve all of the budding hemp industry’s problems overnight. Lange said by launching the study, Nevada can develop a market that can increase jobs and boost the state's economy.

"This is something that is made for Nevada, something that we can use to diversify our economy to put more people back to work," Lange said. "We have lots of land; we have lots of vacant buildings, buildings that we can put indoor grow houses."

The study proposes examining the available funding sources for research on the plant and reviewing current trends in the hemp industry along with researching innovative methods and legislation to spur industry growth. It would also focus on programs designed to promote economic development in coordination with hemp cultivation businesses and the production and sale of hemp products.

Hemp is best known for CBD production, but CBD is just one byproduct of the plant. Hemp seeds can serve as a source of food, and the plant's stalk can be used in various textiles, biofuel and construction materials.

State lawmakers approved creation of a hemp pilot program in 2015, and the industry has since blossomed; growing from 13 registered growers in 2016 to 116 in 2018, along with corresponding increases in outdoor and indoor growth spaces registered with the state.

Former legislator and Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who sponsored the hemp pilot program bill in 2015, testified in support of the bill, noting that he can walk faster by using CBD oil in the morning and that hemp would benefit Clark County's agricultural community.

"We're intending to ... bring hemp into Clark County to let people study it, grow it in some of the neighborhood gardens that the university participates in and it's just a win-win," Segerblom said. "It's an incredibly valuable product."

Segerblom, who has a strain of cannabis named after him and led the crusade to legalize pot in the state, said that his only regret about the bill hearing was that he was not at the Legislature on April 20.

"I'd say the saddest day of my life was not being there on Tuesday for 4/20," Segerblom said. "I really did miss it."

Tens of thousands of rental assistance applications in Clark County backlog as eviction moratorium expiring

Two weeks before the expiration of a statewide eviction moratorium, Clark County says it has more than 17,000 applications for rental assistance money still waiting to be processed.

The update on the status of federal funds set aside to help people pay overdue rent came at a virtual town hall on Wednesday hosted by Clark County Commissioners Tick Segerblom and William McCurdy II and Las Vegas Councilwoman Olivia Diaz. 

Kevin Schiller, Clark County assistant county manager, explained in the town hall that the CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) ran out of funds in December, leaving about 12,000 households that had applied for rental assistance in the queue. 

Schiller said of those 12,000, about 4,500 have been processed, for a total of about $12 million in aid. Because of the anticipated funding through the second and third round of federal aid, Schiller said, CHAP allowed more room for applicants, which led to the backlog of between 17,000 and 20,000 applications. 

New federal funding came with changes in eligibility requirements, which required CHAP to upgrade its computer system. Changes included lowering the annual income cap for a family of four from about $90,000 to $60,000 and no longer allowing landlord-direct applications in bulk — a tenant has to submit the application and meet requirements. 

But with the upgrades completed, Schiller said the program will be in “fast forward mode” starting Monday, processing about 1,700 applications a week.

Panelists at the town hall meeting strongly encouraged people in need of rental assistance to visit Chap.ClarkCountynv.gov, fill out an application and get in the queue before the moratorium expires on March 31. Between the City of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Clark County and funding from the state, $161 million is earmarked for rental assistance, or enough to serve 20,000 more households beyond those in the queue.

“If you have not applied for rental assistance, you have to apply for rental assistance… There is a pot of money there that tenants who have been impacted by COVID can tap into to pay their rent,” said Jim Berchtold, and attorney with Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. “The application process can be a little cumbersome, and so we have seen a number of tenants who have gotten discouraged and have just quit. That is not the answer. The answer is to stick with it, submit that application and get that rental assistance.”

Berchtold said that while applying for aid would not guarantee a landlord would not evict a tenant, it could help a tenant’s case to stay in a home, even if the money requested was still pending.

It’s unclear whether there will be any extension of the federal or state eviction moratoriums that are set to expire March 31. 

“We're working with our local partners, with the judicial branch, to determine how to handle it,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said at a press conference on Wednesday. “I’ve got a lot of options on the table right now, we're working night and day to come up with a plan for that and you should see something in the future.”

Behind the Bar: Frierson on his cancer diagnosis, taxing EVs, small business support office and taking a stand against AAPI discrimination

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

In this edition: More details on Speaker Jason Frierson’s prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment. Plus, another GOP effort to tax electric vehicle charging, return of the small business advocate office, what elected officials had to say about discrimination against Asian Americans and another Carson City Restaurant Spotlight.

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

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


For reporters, heading into the Speaker’s office means it’s time to talk about a major piece of policy, or some kind of major upcoming development to watch for in the legislative session.

Monday was different.

My colleague Michelle Rindels and I headed into the office to interview Speaker Jason Frierson on a much more personal topic: his prostate cancer diagnosis and decision to undergo a cryotherapy treatment on Wednesday.

It’s an immensely personal thing to share. I think Frierson was mildly uncomfortable, at least at the start of the interview, with talking at length about the diagnosis and his decisions as they relate to treatment.

But Frierson didn’t have to share this much information — legislators tend to not really share too much about their personal health history or ongoing issues, especially as it relates to temporary absences from the legislative chambers. 

All accounts indicate that the procedure went well, and I believe that Frierson plans to participate in (virtual) committee meetings as soon as Thursday. 

But in the days since the interview and while writing the story itself, I’ve reflected on just why Frierson decided to share his diagnosis. Obviously, there is news value and a necessity to report that one of the two most powerful Democrats in the Legislature is battling cancer, but one thing that struck me in reviewing the transcript in how much of his focus was on spreading general awareness about prostate cancer.

“I just felt compelled to make sure that if there was one person ... that will go get tested when they turn 50, or one person that will follow up after they get a ... PSA (prostate-specific antigen test) that's higher than it should be for the age, then it's well worth it,” he said during the interview. “Just one.”

It’s pretty easy to get numb to the various pronouncements and awareness days (or weeks or months) that are announced almost daily in the Legislature. There’s a lot of them, and only 120 days to recognize them all.

But an announcement like the one Frierson made cuts through that monotony of floor speeches and recognitions, and makes it real. This is a man who many who read this newsletter have met, and who is concerned about whether he’ll be around to see his kids grow up. That’s real.

If anything, this should bring a little more attention to a preventable disease that nonetheless kills nearly 300 people a year. It should also bring more attention to a bill that I, in all honesty, probably would have skimmed over before this interview happened.

It’s AB187 — a bill that “Designates the month of September of each year as ‘Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Prevention and Awareness Month’ in Nevada.” It’s up for a hearing on Monday, and we’ll be covering it.

— Riley Snyder


Electric vehicle tax again proposed by Senate Republican leader

Monday was not April Fool’s Day, Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) told members of the Senate Growth and Infrastructure committee at the start of the week.

Yet the nominally anti-tax leader of the state Senate Republicans nonetheless is sponsoring a bill, SB191, that would levy a 10 percent surcharge (also known as a tax) on the sale of electric service to charge the battery of an electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Settelmeyer hasn’t had a major change of heart on taxes (he introduced a similar bill last session), nor does he have it out for electric vehicle owners — telling committee members Monday that he’s one of the handful of lawmakers who owns an electric vehicle. He said his main concern was ensuring the solvency of the state’s Highway Fund — which is mostly funded through taxes on gasoline sales.

“We bought an EV based on the fact that it was economical,” he said. “We're able to get a used one for $8,000, and the fact of not having to contribute at all bothered me.”

The proposal attracted support from trade groups representing contractors, the petroleum industry and even the state’s Independent American Party, whose lobbyist Lynn Chapman in perhaps the understatement of the session said they “usually don't support taxes and fee increases” but thought Settelmeyer’s bill made sense.

But the legislation was opposed by a handful of clean energy groups, whose representatives said the bill would unfairly target electric vehicles and that lawmakers should take a more holistic approach to modernizing transportation infrastructure and funding.

“This bill only hurts the EV drivers who utilize public charging, which are generally those drivers who do not have access to home charging and live in multi-unit dwellings, which are usually the lower income drivers,” Plug In America lobbyist Katherine Stainken said. “And so this bill is seeking to ensure that the roads in Nevada are adequately funded by EV drivers? This bill makes no sense in accomplishing that objective.”

Settelmeyer — who at one point quipped that the DMV didn’t submit a fiscal note on the bill because they were “looking at the chances the majority party letting the minority party have a bill passed” — said he was open to amendments on the proposal, including potentially broadening the language to include other alternative fuel sources and sending a portion of the proceeds to county governments for transportation spending.

“Let's try to be far-reaching, so we don't have to come back and do this again,” he said.

— Riley Snyder


Support for small businesses is on the horizon

Since the start of the COVID pandemic, 35 percent of Nevada's small businesses have permanently closed their doors. 

Lawmakers worry that unless the state provides more support, that percentage will only continue to grow.

One solution to the problem lies in an initiative Gov. Steve Sisolak touted in his State of the State address and was introduced as AB184. Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), the bill would establish an office of small business advocacy with staff dedicated to helping small businesses access resources and knowledge.

"Our small businesses need us more than ever," Frierson said during a Senate Government Affairs committee hearing Monday. "With the influx of federal, state and local resources available during these tough times, I see no better time for this office to exist, to help Nevadans navigate through these difficult times and find the resources in a central location to have the greatest chance of success."

The office would operate under the lieutenant governor's purview, acting as a central hub for businesses seeking advice, navigating bureaucracy and looking for support. A similar concept was introduced in 2019 but failed to advance out of the Senate.

But the program comes with a price tag. It’s projected to cost a combined $576,000 over the next two fiscal years, and $412,000 in future budget cycles, per a fiscal note attached to the bill. The dollars would fund two positions (one director and one associate or ombudsman) and help pay for a case management system and other start-up costs.

Businesses with 100 employees or less would have access to the program, Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall said. Reports from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that businesses employing fewer than 20 people account for 83 percent of all firms in the state.

Plans also include hiring a Spanish-speaking aide, and Marshall said that the office would seek to make sure that interpreters are available to help business owners in the language with which they are most familiar.

"One of the things you find when you're talking to small businesses is that [for] minority and women, [owning a business] is an opportunity for those demographics to move ahead economically in life," Marshall said. "It is a path, and it is a particularly American path. And so, the ability to serve diverse communities becomes very important."

— Tabitha Mueller


‘Hate has no home in Nevada’: Leaders speak out against discrimination toward Asians

State and local leaders in Nevada are turning a spotlight on discrimination against Asian Americans in the wake of a shooting at Asian-owned spas in Georgia that left eight people dead.

Democratic Assemblywoman Cecelia Gonzalez, who is of Thai and Mexican descent, said on the Assembly floor on Wednesday that she was “heartbroken” by the news of the shooting that happened on Tuesday. Six Asian women were killed at three spas, and a 21-year-old white man was arrested and charged with murder in connection with the case.

“It is with a heavy heart I rise in support of my Asian brothers and sisters across the country as we continue to experience escalating rates of violence driven in part by fear-mongering and racism,” she said. “ I will continue to be a voice for all of our communities targeted by extremists, including my (Asian-American Pacific Islander) community, as long as our community continues to experience bigotry.”

Hours before the rampage, Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom requested the drafting of a resolution condemning and combating racism, xenophobia and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

“This is a huge issue around the country,” Segerblom said at a meeting Tuesday. “Fortunately we haven't seen visible public signs of this happening in Las Vegas. But 10 percent of our population is Asian and it's important to be proactive and let them know that we stand behind them.”

During public comment, Craig Valdez, a member of the Clark County Asian American Pacific Islanders Community Commission, urged the commissioners to support the resolution as incidents of racism, discrimination, harassment and assault toward AAPI population have surged nationwide since the start of the pandemic. Asian Americans reported nearly 3,800 hate-related incidents between March 2020 and February 2021, according to a report released by Stop AAPI Hate on Tuesday.

“Fear of the novel coronavirus, which originated in China, has increased racist and xenophobic sentiments, creating a climate that hails back to the era of yellow peril,” Valdez said. “Hate has no home here in Nevada. Our community must come together to confront this hate and vitriol and work collaboratively across the lines of difference in the pursuit of justice and liberation.” 

— Jannelle Calderon


By the Numbers: Behavioral health budget cuts

On Tuesday, members of a legislative budget subcommittee took a deep look at the state’s behavioral health budget, which suffered substantial cuts during the 2020 budget-focused special session. Here are some figures that stood out:

$38 million: The total dollar amount of budget cuts made to the state’s behavioral health budget accounts during the 2020 special session. Division administrators said most of those cuts have since been restored.

$176,000: The proposed reduction in the budget for the state’s problem gambling treatment program for each fiscal year in the two-year budget. If approved, the proposed cuts would be assessed and through the state’s Advisory Committee on Problem Gambling.

63: The number of individuals who, if the $176,000 in annual funding was restored, could receive treatment through the state’s problem gambling treatment program.

62: The current number of vacancies in the northern Nevada state behavioral health program. The governor’s proposed budget would keep 22 of those vacancies throughout the first year of the budget.

— Riley Snyder


Carson City Restaurant Spotlight

I found myself a bit torn on Tuesday evening — should I start dinner or devote my full attention to the scintillating if dense panel discussion about mining taxes unfolding live on The Indy’s YouTube account?

I chose the latter, and decided to let the nearby pupuseria La Santaneca handle the food.

If you haven’t tried pupusas, they’re a staple of El Salvador cuisine that is essentially a chunky grilled tortilla stuffed with melty cheese, meat and other tasty accompaniments. They’re the ultimate savory, not-really-spicy comfort food best served with a side of spicy tax policy debate.

I ordered an assortment of pupusas filled with cheese, chorizo, beans, jalapeno and loroco (an edible Central American flower), and they came piping hot with little baggies of marinated cabbage and a mild red salsa to heap on top. I’d recommend two to three pupusas per person, which are between $2 and $4 a pop.

Even if you don’t have the sonorous voices of Jim Wadhams and Laura Martin as your soundtrack, La Santaneca is an abundantly worthwhile choice for your next takeout dinner.

Place your order (before 8:30 p.m.) at (775) 301-6678, and pick it up at 316 East Winnie Lane.

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

— Michelle Rindels

A pair of soon-to-be-devoured pupusas from La Santaneca in Carson City on March 17, 2021. (Michelle Rindels/The Nevada Independent)

What we’re reading:

Three weeks until all adults can get the COVID vaccine, Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez and Megan Messerly report

Another calm, well-thought-out and reasonable debate about guns — this time on banning “ghost guns” and beefing up the banning of guns on private property.

An important read from Daniel Rothberg on swamp cedars, a “unique population of large juniper trees” in Eastern Nevada that’s sacred to Indigenous communities in the area. Sign up for the Indy Environment newsletter here.

If you need more Daniel in your life, or want to relive the YouTube comment flame war, check out our panel discussion on Nevada mining taxes.

AG Aaron Ford wants his office to have the same “pattern and practice” investigatory powers that the U.S. Department of Justice has (but stopped doing them in 2017). An interesting subplot in this Michelle Rindels story is the LVPPA continuing to break ranks with other law enforcement unions.

Our story on Monday’s bill introduction Deadline Day that wasn’t (my conspiracy theory is that there’s a big Bachelor fan in the legal division who didn’t want to miss the finale).

Another great installment in our Freshman Orientation series, on Assemblywoman Clara “Claire” Thomas (via Tabitha Mueller).

There have been a handful of bills introduced this session that affect public record laws. (Associated Press)

Residents of Empire and Gerlach held a screening of Nomadland, the Academy Award-nominated film that in part takes place in rural Nevada. Many locals are in the film, including the girl who asks Frances McDormand’s character early on if she’s homeless, but the nearest theater is 100 miles away in Sparks. (Reno Gazette-Journal)

Attorney Sigal Chattah spoke with the Review-Journal about her bid for attorney general. In semi-related news, Wednesday marks the one-month anniversary of her lawsuit seeking to open the state Legislature to the public, but as of Tuesday, attorneys for the Legislature haven’t actually been served with the lawsuit. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Most Nevadans who got their first COVID shot are following up to get their second COVID vaccine shot. (Nevada Current)

Not only did the Department of Corrections and Gov. Steve Sisolak not allow for compassionate release during a pandemic (5,460 inmates and staff contracted COVID, 56 died), but the office also suspended “good time” credits during the pandemic. Advocates say they’ve identified “817 people who should have received mandatory parole hearings and 71 whose sentences would have ended ‘if they would have received 60 credits they lost over the course of this year.’” (Nevada Current)

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Remaining Bill Introductions Deadline: 4 (Monday, March 22, 2021)

First Committee Passage: 22 (Friday, April 9, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 74 (May 31, 2021)

Behind the Bar: Just how slow is the start of session? NV GOP alleges election fraud (again), unemployment updates and bills to watch for this week

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

In this edition: Has this session started slower than others? Plus, the Nevada Republican Party turns in election complaints, unemployment updates and related GOP indignation, plus a look at upcoming major bill hearings.

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

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


It’s around this time of every legislative session, pandemic or no pandemic, that the whispers start.

“What’s taking drafting so long? Why are they going so slow? How are they going to meet the deadline?”

While there might not be lobbyists in the building just yet, I’ve started to hear the same whisperings this session.

The day this newsletter publishes, March 8, is the 36th day of the 120-day legislative session. The deadline for lawmaker bill introductions is a week away (March 15), and the deadline for most other remaining bill introductions is two weeks away (March 22).

Rather than just rely on a general sense that things are moving slowly this session, I wanted to take a look and compare this session’s quote-unquote productivity with recent sessions.

So far in 2021 (as of Friday, March 5), there have been 401 bill or resolution introductions, along with 349 committee actions (hearings, amendments, or bills mentioned) and 881 floor actions — which includes bill introductions, amendments, votes or generally any other action taken on the Senate or Assembly floor.

That’s behind the pace of the 2019 legislative session, which at this point had 539 bills or resolutions introduced, 432 committee actions and 1,103 floor actions. 

It’s even further behind the pace of the 2017 session — 574 bill or resolution introductions, 559 committee actions and 1,579 floor actions at this point.

So by those metrics, the pace so far is slower than the last two sessions. Some caveats: let me be the latest reporter to tell you that we’re in a pandemic; many of the normal practices and courses of the legislative session have been thrown off by COVID-related disruptions and delays.

And going by raw numbers of bills isn’t the best measure of productivity — not all bills are created equal, and many are destined for the legislative graveyard (see Richard McArthur’s bill eliminating scheduled minimum wage increases or any of the other red-meat Republican Party priorities).

That said, there isn’t too much of a public sense of urgency with nearly a third of the session completed. There’s only been one Friday floor session to date (last week in the Assembly) and many committees are still canceling meetings scheduled for Thursday evening or Friday, save for the budget committees. 

Circling back to the original point, I don’t think this is some unique failure of current legislative leadership — there’s always been a slow start to the session, with a frantic rush at the end to wrap everything up before Sine Die arrives.

If you think slow legislative starts are by any means a new phenomenon, check out this neat compilation of legislative history on the constitutional amendment that set the strict 120-day time limit for legislative sessions (passed in 1998, debated in 1995 and 1997. A special hat tip to lobbyist Lea Case for forwarding it). 

It’s a fun read — the back and forth between former Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio and then-Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus is feisty, and a certain large Las Vegas newspaper supported the change in an op-ed because “lawmakers operating under a hard-and-fast deadline will become more focused and less prone to mischief.” 

And in a weird twist, former Democratic Sen. Mike Schneider in a floor speech in 1997 appears to have sort of eerily predicted the future virtual session, warning that: “Maybe legislators, 50 years from now, will be with their lap top computers and be called from Carson City and hearings will be held instantaneously around the state.”

“Each session has different priorities and each session probably takes a different number of days to complete,” said Schneider, the only “no” vote against the resolution in 1997. “We do not know how long it will take to complete a session because of the types of bills that come in.”

— Riley Snyder


NV GOP’s voter fraud crusade continues

A full 121 days after Election Day 2020, Nevada Republican Party leadership and a crowd of about 40 supporters gathered on the steps of the state Capitol on Thursday to turn in boxes filled with what they said were more than 122,000 reports of election irregularities in the previous election.

Despite assurances from the Nevada secretary of state and election officials in major counties and state court decisions rejecting the notion that widespread voter fraud had occurred in the 2020 election, Republican Party leadership nonetheless continued to echo the unsupported rhetoric that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

The complaints submitted Thursday largely include instances of alleged fraud previously identified by the Trump campaign and state Republican Party in court — deceased voters (1,506), non-citizen voters (3,987) commercial or non-existent addresses (8,842 and 8,111) and alleged duplicate voters (42,284). 

Many of those categories were mentioned in data reports submitted as part of the Trump campaign’s lawsuit against the state, but were initially filed under seal (some later released on the party’s website) and did not publicly name which individuals it had accused of cheating the system.

On Thursday, speakers sought to walk a careful line between relitigating 2020 and various claims of fraud, while looking ahead to future elections and potential legislative changes to the state’s election process.

“We don’t agree on much these days, but at the end of the day, we have to come together and unite to fix this broken abortion of a bill,” state party Chairman Michael McDonald said in reference to AB4 of the 2020 special session, at one point adding that “this isn’t about the past election...if we do not have fair and open elections, this state is dead.”

Others, such as former Republican congressional candidate Jim Marchant, remained focused on 2020.

“I believe the race was stolen from me,” said Marchant, who lost by more than 16,000 votes in his bid against incumbent Democratic Rep. Steve Horsford. “I believe the race was stolen from Donald Trump.”

Marchant said he was “very passionate” about voter fraud issues and planned to run for Secretary of State in 2022.

A spokeswoman for the secretary of state confirmed that the office had received the complaints and will “review them and investigate when warranted.”

— Riley Snyder


DETR by the numbers

The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) presented its projected unemployment insurance budget for the upcoming two-year budget cycle to a joint budget committee on Thursday.  Here are some figures that stood out:

82,847: The number of unemployment insurance (UI) and pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) claims that DETR still has pending. Those are initial claims that the department still must process and administer funds for. UI and PUA claims each make up about half of the total pending claims.

306,632: The number of UI and PUA claims suspected to be fraudulent that are pending identity verification. More than 250,000 of those are PUA claims. Jeff Frischmann, an administrator at DETR, said that many of those claims came from a spike of around 100,000 claims filed in early January following the passage of the federal stimulus bill.

4: The projected number of years it will take DETR to modernize its UI computer system. A January report from the DETR Rapid Response Strike Force recommended that the department modernize its UI system, with upgrades projected to cost between $30 and $50 million. During the budget presentation, Marylin Delmont, the department’s IT administrator, said that it would take at least three and a half to four years to implement a new system after receiving a federal award for the upgrades. However, the funding request process can take as long as a year, and DETR has not yet identified a source for federal funding for system modernization.

$178 million: The state’s unemployment trust fund debt. That number, which continues to climb, represents nearly $200 million in loans that Nevada has received from the federal government in order to maintain the state’s unemployment trust fund. Those loans remain interest free through the middle of March, though the interest moratorium could potentially be extended by the next federal stimulus bill. 

155: The number of intermittent full-time employees that DETR hopes to maintain in the upcoming biennium to handle the increased number of pandemic-related claims. The 155 employees are a part of a proposed amendment to the department’s budget and have not yet been approved. Those employees would cover a variety of different roles, including 92 positions for call center support and 36 for fraud support. The estimated cost of the proposed amendment is a little more than $12 million for each fiscal year of the biennium.

— Sean Golonka


Republicans call DETR situation “shocking”

Republicans took to social media after the DETR budget presentation described in the previous item to call the numbers of claims held up over ID issues “shocking,” with Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) adding “it’s time for us to ask the tough questions of our unemployment compensation system.”

Dickman has requested a BDR that would take the following steps:

  • Allocate $48.5 million for the modernization of DETR’s system
  • Begin updating the system immediately upon allocation
  • Have the legislative auditor examine DETR’s processes for ensuring accurate data about claims during the pandemic, and evaluate the agency’s processes for detecting and preventing fraud. A report would be due at the end of 2022.

It’s also worth noting that Republican senators including Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) recently met with Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants to try to develop an intervention into DETR problems.

Bill language has yet to come out, and with this expenditure not included in the governor’s budget, Republicans who have been vociferous about the unemployment problems under a Democratic administration still need to identify where the money for an immediate modernization would come from. Another big question: would any of these big-picture plans address the immediate pain of claimants who are stuck in the system right now, or are less-flashy tweaks the answer?

We’ll be watching this week for more specifics about these proposals, what happens when DETR’s capstone bill SB75 comes up for a work session on Monday, and how the COVID relief bill that’s on the brink of passage may change the entire calculus.

— Michelle Rindels


Upcoming Bills of Note

Requiring courthouses to have lactation rooms for members of the public, preventing schools from having racially insensitive mascots or logos, and creating an all-payer claims database related to health services are just some of the top issues scheduled for hearings this week.

Below, we’ve listed out the hearing times and short descriptions for those high-profile measures. They’re accurate as of Sunday afternoon, but are subject to change at any time (given that the Legislature is exempted from Open Meeting Law). For links and times to watch committee meetings, check out the Legislature’s website.

Here’s what to watch this week in the Legislature:

Monday, 9 a.m. - Assembly Judiciary reviewing AB64, a bill that increases penalties and makes other changes to laws on prostitution. It’s sponsored by the attorney general’s office.

Monday, 10 a.m. - Assembly Government Affairs reviews AB196, which generally requires courthouses in the state to provide a lactation room for a member of the public.

Monday, 3:30 p.m. - Senate Growth and Infrastructure plans to review SB196, a bill by Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) that would make an “anatomical gift” (organ or other body part donation after death) an opt-out, rather than opt-in system.

Tuesday, 9 a.m. - Assembly Government Affairs reviews AB99, which would raise the prevailing wage minimum threshold for public works or construction projects undertaken by the Nevada System of Higher Education. It’s sponsored by Assemblyman John Ellison (R-Elko).

Tuesday, 1:30 p.m. - Assembly Education to review AB88, a bill by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) prohibiting schools from using an “identifier” such as a name, logo, mascot, song or other identifier that is racially discriminatory or is associated with a person “with a racially discriminatory history.” It’d also authorize higher education governing bodies to adopt similar provisions, but require the state Board on Geographic Names to change any similar racially discriminatory names of places or geographic features. 

Tuesday, 3:30 p.m. - Senate Health and Human Services to review SB40, a bill by the state Patient Protection Commission that would create an all-payer claims database of information relating to health insurance claims resulting from medical, dental or pharmacy benefits provided in the state.

Wednesday, 8 a.m. - Assembly Judiciary to hear AB42, a bill that implements the Nevada Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Anderson v. Nevada requiring any person convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime that would prohibit them from owning firearms have the right to a jury trial

Wednesday, 1 p.m. - Senate Judiciary will review SB140, a bill by Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) that would require inmates working for the state to be paid the minimum wage.

Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. - Senate Growth and Infrastructure to hear SB162, which would allow drivers of low emission and energy-efficient vehicles to use the HOV or carpool lane regardless of the number of passengers.

What we’re reading

The first installment of Megan Messerly’s ‘What Happened Here’ COVID retrospective.

Tabitha Mueller takes a deep dive into issues of affordable housing and housing supply that could come up this session. Didn’t realize it, but the highly-touted $10 million in tax credits for affordable housing hasn’t really been used at all in the last two years. 

A 54 percent increase in contract buyouts among Nevada colleges and universities, via Jacob Solis.

Jannelle Calderon reports on fallout from a federal court loss for backers of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Has COVID killed off the famous Las Vegas buffets? (Reno Gazette-Journal)

Legislation aims to end racial disparities in youth possession of weed (Nevada Current).

“In a letter read into testimony, one inmate said because of the deductions, his mother ‘has to send $17.50 for me to buy a $2.50 deodorant’” (Nevada Current).

Assemblywoman makes case for treating pretrial house arrest as time served. (Nevada Current)

Attorney Sigal Chattah takes a break from suing the state to announce a run for attorney general (Associated Press).

The understaffed Department of Corrections wants a staffing study, but Assemblywoman Brittney Miller asks why we need a study for a problem we’ve already identified (Nevada Appeal).

In proceedings slightly less dramatic than the 1917 October Revolution, Judith Whitmer defeated Tick Segerblom to become the new head of the Nevada State Democratic Party (Las Vegas Review-Journal).

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 4 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 7 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 84 (May 31, 2021)

Updated at 10:20 a.m. on Monday, March 8 to correct the number of filed bills or resolutions for the 2021, 2019, and 2017 session. The previous totals did not include the number of pre-filed bills.

Behind the Bar: COVID in the Legislature, pot for pets, cuts to tobacco prevention and revisiting welfare reform

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

In this edition: A positive COVID test comes right as the mass vaccination campaign inside the building begins. Plus, details on the “pot for pets” bill, ending a 90s-era ban on people with drug charges from accessing state welfare programs, and concerns over cuts to tobacco prevention funding. And, the return of fan-favorite feature “Carson City Restaurant Spotlight.”

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

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


I suppose it was only a matter of time before COVID-19 came (again) to the Legislature.

If you missed the news yesterday, a person inside the Legislative Building in Carson City tested positive for the virus earlier this week. Contact tracing is underway, and there wasn’t any additional identifying information in the email sent to Legislative Counsel Bureau staff on Wednesday morning.

Even with lobbyists and members of the public still not allowed in the building, there’s still somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 to 400 people between legislators, staff and the small press pool spending hours and hours inside the building. That’s a lot of people to keep track of, especially with many lawmakers flying back to Las Vegas on weekends.

I would be surprised if legislative operations are significantly affected by the positive test — committees are already held virtually, so someone who needs to quarantine could still theoretically participate in meetings. There’s also rapid COVID testing available in the legislative parking garage, with people in the building required to be tested as least once a week.

Lawmakers have also adopted rules allowing legislators to appear virtually during floor sessions, an option that relatively few have taken up so far this session (definitely noticed a trend of more people appearing virtually after a positive case was reported in the first 2020 special session).

The timing of the positive test also comes as mass vaccinations are finally happening, with first shots of the Moderna vaccine being administered this week. The timing isn’t uniform — some older staffers were vaccinated earlier this year —  and people who had COVID prior to the session and still have (presumably) some kind of antibody resistance.

All of these things are factors in the equation of when to open the building. Again, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson was adamant last week that an opening wouldn’t happen until the LCB staff were fully vaccinated and protected from the virus (the death of Assembly Sgt. at Arms Robin Bates from COVID still weighs heavily). 

I understand, and am sympathetic to the difficult decisions that legislative leadership has to make in regards to opening the building. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro’s line on Wednesday during the Senate floor session, that “there is nothing quite like a global pandemic to put everyone in an impossible situation,” certainly appeared like an authentic expression that figuring out how to open safely is a really, really difficult task.

But this is why they’re elected — to figure out and try to address those really difficult problems. It’s hard, but someone needs to eventually make the call and give more clarity as to what to expect going forward.

— Riley Snyder

Maybe this time the pets will get their pot 

Licensed veterinarians are not allowed to use or recommend CBD or hemp products to pet owners to treat conditions, but experts say people do anyway without vet guidance.

Nevada lawmakers may soon change that. The Assembly Commerce and Labor committee heard a purr-posed “pot for pets” bill on Monday. 

AB101, presented by Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), would change Nevada law to allow veterinarians to administer hemp or CBD products, containing no more than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive compound THC, to an animal, or recommend a pet owner to use such a product.

“We're not going to have a bunch of pets walking around stoned,” Yeager said. “It's more of the calming effect of CBD.”

The bill would relieve vet and pet owner anxieties around the use and discussion of CBD as a treatment option, according to Jennifer Pedigo, executive director of the Nevada Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. AB101 would prohibit the board from disciplining licensed veterinarians or facilities solely for administration or recommendation of the product.

“There is this desire on the part of vets to be able to look at this and to talk about it,” Yeager said. “But they just want to make sure that they're not going to get disciplined for doing so.”

In 2015, then-Sen. Tick Segerblom introduced SB372 that would have allowed the medical use of marijuana for animals, but the bill died without a hearing. 

Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) shared during the hearing her experience of asking the vet if CBD would help with her Yorkshire terrier’s pain during the dog’s last days, but she said the vet couldn’t guide her.  

“Not that I think it would have saved the dog, but I think her last days would have been far more comfortable if they had been able to guide me," Dickman said.

— Jannelle Calderon & Tabitha Mueller

Nixing a Clinton-era ban on welfare for people with drug convictions

One of the legacies of welfare reform in 1996 has been extremely small welfare rolls in Nevada, even while less-restrictive programs such as Medicaid enroll 40 times as many people and attest that the need for cash assistance is there. 

But another vestige of the Clinton-era policy is a ban on welfare and food stamp benefits for people who have felony drug convictions. That comes from the “Gramm Amendment” — sponsored by Republican former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas — that got two minutes of debate in the Senate before being adopted into the welfare reform bill President Bill Clinton signed into law.

While there are some ways for people with felony convictions in Nevada to get around the ban, such as proving they completed federally certified substance abuse training, critics say such programs are expensive and difficult to access. And what if the applicant loses the proof they completed such a program?

The Assembly Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday heard AB138, which seeks to wipe out such restrictions. Critics including Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite), who disclosed she has a person in her life who is dealing with an opioid addiction, said she worried about removing a requirement that might be a “carrot” to nudge people into treatment.

But public commenters exclusively spoke in support of the bill, condemning a criminal justice system that disproportionately convicts people of color. They said the “War on Drugs”-era policy is a cruel way to encourage treatment and punishes a subset of formerly incarcerated people as well as their families. 

Commenter Nicole Williams perhaps summed up the bill support in its most basic essence.

“All humans, all Nevadans, with or without felony convictions, should have access to food,” she said. “It's basic human decency.”

— Michelle Rindels

Tobacco prevention funding zeroed out

A major concern for public health advocates for the upcoming biennium? Cuts to tobacco prevention funding. 

Through vaping tax bill SB263 in 2019, the state appropriated $2.5 million in both the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years for tobacco prevention. Instead, the state spent less than $2.3 million on SB263 tobacco prevention in the two years combined, and in the proposed budget for the upcoming biennium, there are no funds allocated for tobacco prevention efforts.

During a legislative hearing on Tuesday for the proposed budget for the Division of Public and Behavioral Health, several public health advocates sounded the alarm about youth anti-vaping programs potentially going away.

“Elimination of education along with the loss of funding to local health authorities to implement prevention activities in communities throughout the state will mean more Nevada youth using and becoming addicted to nicotine products,” Tom McCoy, policy committee chair for the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition, wrote in a public comment.

Representatives from the health districts in Washoe and Clark counties called for restoring funding, pointing to the ongoing trends in youth vaping. Nearly half of Washoe County high school students and nearly a third of Washoe County middle school students reported having used electronic vapor products, according to Kevin Dick, district health officer for Washoe County.

— Sean Golonka

Carson City Restaurant Spotlight: Thai Thai

I’m not one to typically seek out a food court in a mall anchored by an urgent care and a salon called Get Nailed. But the Carson Mall has a few eateries of note, including one of the capital city’s two Thai restaurants.

Thai Thai is a bit pricier than what you might expect from similar restaurants in Vegas, but I also got out the door paying less than what I would at The Basil, which is the destination of choice if you’re into downtown people-watching and on the company tab.

My green curry and Pad Thai order was fast, piping hot and neatly presented, with a few unidentified, saucy bonus condiments thrown in perhaps for good measure and perhaps to achieve spice level 3. The curry could’ve been a bit more green, but like that Pad Thai, it hit the spot. And I’m probably doing this restaurant critic thing wrong by even bringing up the rice, but the rice was perfection.

In all, dinner for two (and leftovers for the next day) was about $32 including tip. Thai Thai is open until 9 p.m. most nights to accommodate committee hearings that run late, but not too late.

Make your takeout order at (775) 883-7905. Located at 1300 S Stewart Street in Carson City.

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

An order of Pad Thai and green-ish curry from Pad Thai in Carson City (Michelle Rindels/The Nevada Independent)

What we’re reading

The quest to add the ERA to the U.S. Constitution is forever pending, but getting it into the Nevada Constitution will probably be an easier lift. Jannelle Calderon reports.

Insurers charging you more because Fido is a pit bull? Sean Golonka on banning breed-specific rates.

Nothing brings the left and right together like committee chairs limiting public comment to 10 minutes. Riley reports.

Andy Matthews once went undercover to try out for the Red Sox, but said he was never much in danger of making the team. That and more on the new Republican Assembly member, via Riley.

For the third time in as many sessions, proposals are floating in the Legislature to appoint, rather than elect, as least some school board members. Jackie Valley reports that the proposal might have a better chance in 2021.

A new coalition wants the Legislature to raise taxes for public education, and is employing the classic lobbying tactic of buying billboard space between the Reno airport and the capital, Michelle reports.

Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas) has introduced a bill that would ban summary evictions (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno) is introducing a bill that would promote information literacy in public schools (KUNR)

Public Employee Retirement System premiums for state workers are set to increase over the budget cycle (Nevada Appeal)

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 15 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 18 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 95 (May 31, 2021)

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No bill hearings have been scheduled yet.

— Jackie Valley

Un-repealing principal hiring practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller

Making the smoking age the same as the drinking age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Carson City Restaurant Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we’re reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPCOMING DEADLINES

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

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

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

Clark County Commissioners approve renaming McCarran airport after Sen. Harry Reid, federal approval needed next

The Clark County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a name change from McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid International Airport. 

“I will be proud to cast my vote today to support the airport being renamed as a tribute to the work [Sen. Harry Reid] has done for Nevada, regardless of party, and a reminder that we must continue to fight the good fight for our community every day,” said Commissioner Justin Jones. 

Reid expressed gratitude following the unanimous vote.

"It is with humility that I express my appreciation for the recognition today," said the former senator. "I would like to express my deep gratitude to Commissioner Segerblom, the entire Clark County Commission, and the many others who have played a part in this renaming."

During the meeting, public comments were filled with support and opposition for the name change. While many favored renaming the property after Reid, noting his accomplishments and ties to Nevada, some outright rejected a change, and some proposed different name possibilities, including Las Vegas International Airport.

One person in opposition made the argument that changing the airport’s name to a powerful Democrat leader would further fuel the partisan divide present across the U.S., which he said carries economic implications.

“I'm not here to express an opinion on what's right,” said Edward Facey during the public comment period. “Rather, I want to reinforce the point that involving brands with politically polarized political issues and personalities has economic impact. And most of those impacts are negative.” 

But for others, the name change is a statement in support of Nevada’s diversity. 

“In Las Vegas, we often tear down our history,” said Astrid Silva, Dream Big Nevada executive director and immigrant’s rights advocate. “Let’s build it up, build up people like me, who didn’t know that they mattered. Naming Harry Reid International Airport would show all our young Nevadans that no matter if you come from the desert, you can soar.” 

The board will submit a request to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval of the name change, although the LAS letter code used by the administration to identify the property would remain the same. 

If approved, rebranding the airport would cost an estimated $2 million. However, Commissioner Tick Segerblom explained that funds will be raised privately to cover those costs. 

“I do think that no one should have to suffer from this economically,” Segerblom said. “We do have contributions lined up, and we will figure out a way to to collect those and then make sure it’s covered.” 

Along with the support from the all-Democrat commission, the decision to change the namesake of the airport, from the controversial and influential Sen. Pat McCarran to former Senate Majority Leader Reid, has been supported by other prominent Democrats throughout the state, including Gov. Steve Sisolak, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Attorney General Aaron Ford.

“Senator Harry Reid has never forgotten who he is or where he came from,” Sisolak said in a statement. “He has spent his life and his career lifting up Nevada to what it has become today. He has helped to shape Las Vegas into a world-class tourism destination in a state that celebrates its diversity.”

The name change also received support from prominent Republicans, including Miriam Adelson and Sands Chairman and CEO Robert Goldstein, as well as from university presidents, including UNR President and former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“Among his list of exceptional accomplishments, Senator Reid’s work on behalf of the airport has helped Nevada become a great global destination,” Sandoval and UNLV President Keith Whitfield wrote in a letter. “We support honoring Senator Reid’s decades of service for the great State of Nevada by renaming the airport in the community and state that he has helped build and prosper.”

The push to remove McCarran as the namesake of the airport has been around for several years. In 2017, Segerblom’s effort to strip McCarran’s name from the airport through legislation died in committee.

The airport’s original namesake, McCarran, who served in the U.S. senate from 1933 until his death in 1954, has been defended by some as a champion of labor rights. However, his critics have scrutinized him for having a documented legacy of racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia that included restrictive immigration policies that limited immigration for Jewish refugees after the holocaust.

“Senator Patrick McCarran’s history of supporting racist and anti-Semitic policies does not align with what Las Vegas represents,” Jason Gray, an MGM Resorts representative, said. “And frankly his name should not be the first one that visitors to our region see.  Las Vegas’ main airport should be named after a champion of values important to Nevada – a champion of Nevada – Senator Harry Reid.”

This story was updated on 2/16/2021 at 3:07 p.m. to include a statement from Sen. Harry Reid.

University presidents, including Sandoval, pen letter in support of renaming McCarran airport after Sen. Harry Reid

UNR President and former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval joined his UNLV counterpart, President Keith Whitfield, in a letter Thursday to the Clark County Commission supporting changing the namesake of Las Vegas’ international airport from controversial Sen. Pat McCarran to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. 

In their letter, the presidents praised Reid as “one of the most effective and distinguished public servants in the history of Nevada,” and said that the senator’s personal contributions “have significantly increased access and opportunities for our students.”

“The airport in Las Vegas is one of the great public resources in our state, and is seen by millions from around the world,” the presidents wrote. “Among his list of exceptional accomplishments, Senator Reid’s work on behalf of the airport has helped Nevada become a great global destination. We support honoring Senator Reid’s decades of service for the great State of Nevada by renaming the airport in the community and state that he has helped build and prosper.”

Thursday’s letter places Sandoval among the most prominent Republicans calling for the change, which has gained steam since being introduced in the County Commission earlier this month.

Sandoval was also appointed to the federal bench in 2005 on Reid’s recommendation, though he would later resign that seat in order to run for governor in 2010. 

Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has led the most recent charge to change the airport’s name, arguing in part that McCarran’s name “doesn’t represent the diversity of our community.”

The airport’s original namesake, the highly-influential Sen. McCarran, who served in the U.S. senate from 1933 until his death in 1954, has long been scrutinized for his instrumental role in the McCarthyist communist witch hunts of the 1950s and a documented legacy of racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia.

The senator’s defenders have seized on McCarran’s history as a champion of labor rights, including efforts to implement the eight-hour workday. 

But McCarran’s critics have often characterized his immigration policies as “draconian,” pointing in particular to restrictive immigration policies that limited immigration for Jewish refugees after the holocaust and expanded deportation laws. 

In defending one such law after a veto by President Harry Truman, the restrictive McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, McCarran said: “If this oasis of the world should be overrun, perverted, contaminated, or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished.”

By 2017, that history had become so problematic that Nevada’s congressional Democrats wrote to state leaders to urge them to approve the removal of a statue of McCarran from Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill. 

The statue remains in the Capitol building to this day, however, even after a second letter asking for its removal was sent by the state’s Congressional Democrats in 2020. 

In 2017, Segerblom — at the time a state senator — also introduced legislation in Carson City that would have stripped McCarran’s name from the Las Vegas airport. However, that bill, SB174, never received a vote and ultimately died in committee. 

Presidents' Letter Supporting Airport Renaming by Jacob Solis on Scribd

As time ticks on current relief, Las Vegas judge blocks Sisolak's attempt to label evictions 'non-essential'

Members of the Clark County Commission are exploring their options to stave off evictions after a judge rejected a request from Gov. Steve Sisolak's office to label evictions as "non-essential" and halt the proceedings as part of broader, COVID-related closures of the Las Vegas Justice Court.

The state is anticipating a flood of evictions after the first of the year when the federal eviction moratorium and CARES Act — which has provided millions of dollars in rental assistance — expire.

The federal eviction moratorium from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention requires tenants to meet several qualifications as opposed to Sisolak's now-expired blanket moratorium on evictions, which Nevada Legal Aid Policy Director Bailey Bortolin has described as "one of the best ones in the country" because it was "comprehensive" and covered late fees. The federal protections have covered a more limited population in the courts than tenant advocates would like, leading to thousands of evictions in Nevada since the state moratorium expired. 

"Many landlords have just decided to try their luck, and see if they can convince you that you should leave, see if they can get a court to decide with them that the protections don't apply to you and grant the evictions," Bortolin said during a virtual forum with progressive advocacy group Battle Born Progress on Thursday.

Though Sisolak has stopped short of issuing another statewide eviction moratorium, his office has tried to halt evictions in Las Vegas through a letter to Suzan Baucum, chief justice of the Las Vegas Justice Court, expressing concerns about overcrowding at the Las Vegas Justice Court and labeling evictions as "non-essential" during the statewide pause.

"The overcrowding of people within the LVJC during this statewide pause is a public health issue, and the Governor urges you to direct that all in-person appearances (including evictions) be suspended during this statewide pause for the express purpose of helping to contain the spread of COVID-19," reads the letter from Sisolak senior adviser Scott Gilles.

Following Sisolak's latest round of mitigation measures as the coronavirus ravages the state, Baucum ordered several measures to be taken in the justice court to reduce social contact in the court, including postponing some hearings until the order expires on Jan. 4, but left "essential" cases, including eviction proceedings, to continue in-person or through alternatives ways "when possible."

In her response to the governor's office, first reported by the Nevada Current, Baucum wrote that Sisolak's latest mitigation measures did not specifically reference evictions and that the state's moratorium on evictions has expired, leaving no requirement for the court to suspend eviction hearings.

Although the CDC moratorium provides some protections for tenants, Baucum stated that it does not provide a "blanket prohibition on evictions." She also wrote that she's spoken to Justice Court judges who are continuing to hear eviction cases and that any restrictions on evictions should be made on a statewide basis rather than in just one or some of the 40 individual justice courts in the state.

"Unless Governor Sisolak imposes another moratorium relating to evictions or the other case types and hearings deemed 'essential,' I am not inclined to impose additional restrictions beyond those already imposed," Baucum’s letter reads. 

A spokeswoman for the governor did not respond to requests on Thursday and Friday for comment on any additional statewide moratorium.

Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones said during the Battle Born Progress forum that Baucum's decision to deem evictions as essential was "frustrating." Jones, who said he worked with the governor's office to have it intervene with the Las Vegas Justice Court, put Baucum's decision in context with Sisolak's continuing pleas for Nevadans to stay home to stop the spread of the virus.

"It's really hard to stay home if you don't have a home. If you're kicked out of your home, you can't stay home," he said.

Jones said he's been working with the district attorney and fellow commissioners Tick Segerblom and Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick to see what options are possible to stop evictions, including the possibility of using the commission's emergency powers. 

But for some, relief has been secured at least through January 2021. 

On Wednesday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced it would extend its foreclosure moratorium for those with mortgages through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through the end of January after previously extending the aid through the end of the year. Although the extension won't help all renters, Jones said the relief will help prevent foreclosures and their corresponding evictions for tens of thousands of homeowners in Clark County.

Jones encouraged renters in need of relief to apply for aid before the year ends. Clark County has secured around $100 million in rental assistance and has already distributed $56 million of it, leaving $44 million left to spend before the end of the year, according to Jones. 

Washoe County has set aside about $6.6 million for rental assistance, including funds from the City of Reno and Sparks, with $1.4 million left to spend, according to the most recent numbers.

State leaders have raised questions not only about how the economy and uncertainty of further aid will affect tenants who risk losing their homes, but landlords and the housing market overall. Members of the Economic Forum discussed the matter this week as they forecasted state revenue.

“At some point, banks are going to want to get their money back out of those houses that have mortgages on this,” said forum member Jennifer Lewis. “And that seems sort of inevitable so that's going to create some churn.”

Susanna Powers of the Governor’s Finance Office, however, said conditions were better than what they were when the Great Recession spurred widespread foreclosures in Nevada. This time, it’s likelier that distressed homeowners have equity in their property and can sell into a favorable market instead of foreclosing. 

Reno Councilwoman Naomi Duerr emphasized the importance of supporting landlords as well as tenants and said she’s seen cooperation from most Reno landlords during the pandemic.

"They want to keep people in, they want to work with people, and they are willing to accept the vouchers and accept the rental systems," she said.

In the South, Jones said the county has been working directly with landlords to streamline the process of rental assistance to benefit both tenants and landlords.

"It's just a single page form that they can have their own tenant fill out, so we can get those dollars out the door as quickly as possible and into the hands of both landlords and tenants," he said.

Jones encouraged Nevadans to reach out to their representatives and emphasize the importance of securing more aid.

"Every day that goes by is a day that someone's gonna get kicked out of their home. It's a day that somebody goes hungry," he said. "It's a day that a small business owner is, unfortunately, has to close the doors and fire all the employees who are then going to face the same type of issues that everyone else is facing."

Beyond the pandemic, lawmakers and advocates are looking for long-term solutions to evictions in the state.

"We have one of the most landlord-friendly eviction laws in the entire country," Jones said, noting that as a landlord himself, he understands their struggles. "We need to make sure that it's a fair process that a landlord can't just throw up a notice and kick somebody out a few days later." 

Michelle Rindels contributed to this story.

Clark County certifies Democrat Ross Miller’s 10-vote victory in commission race

The Clark County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to certify the results of the general election for the District C race, affirming Democrat Ross Miller as the race’s winner with a 10-vote margin of victory in a district where more than 150,000 ballots were cast.

The board chose not to certify the results in the race in mid-November when the rest of the election was certified because of 139 ballot discrepancies that outnumbered Miller’s lead over Republican opponent Stavros Anthony. Tuesday’s decision comes after a Clark County District Court judge denied Anthony’s motion to prevent the reconsideration, saying that the discrepancies did not qualify as “cause” for a new election according to Nevada statutes. 

“As far as we know, the facts aren’t going to change that [Voter Registrar Joe Gloria] presented on the 16th, and the votes that were counted are accurate,” said Commissioner Larry Brown, who holds the District C seat and reached his term limit this year. “If we don’t meet the statutory requirement as far as ordering a new election, then our only option is going to be to certify and let the courts handle any kind of contested election.”

The motion to reconsider was made by Commissioner Tick Segerblom who was opposed to the board’s decision not to certify in November.

Miller, a former secretary of state, filed a lawsuit against the county after its initial decision not to certify, which he said in the complaint exceeded the board’s “authority under law.” On Tuesday, a statement from the candidate’s campaign expressed his thanks that the commission reconsidered its decision.

“Ross Miller served as Nevada’s chief elections officer for eight years, and nobody has more respect for the hard-working officials and volunteers who administered a fair election in District C,” Jim Ferrence, Miller’s campaign manager, said in the statement. “Over 153,000 voters cast legal ballots in the race, and Ross is thankful to the County Commission for making sure those votes count and for certifying Ross as the winner.” 

Las Vegas City Councilman Anthony said on Tuesday that he was “disappointed” by the board’s decision to “not take a stand for the voters in District C.” As an intervening plaintiff in Miller’s lawsuit, Anthony’s legal team argued on Monday that allowing the county to certify results and leave Anthony only with the options of a recount or a legal challenge was unfair as Gloria previously stated that a recount would not address the 139 discrepancies.

“To say that 139 votes that cannot be counted don’t matter is an affront to the integrity of the election process,” Anthony said in a statement issued by his campaign on Tuesday. “We have a hearing in District Court on Dec. 14, and we will continue to make every effort to get a fair, transparent and accurate election.”

Although Anthony refers to discrepancies as “votes that cannot be counted,” ballot discrepancies are instances when the number of individuals who checked in to vote or signed ballots does not match the number of ballots cast. These anomalies can occur if a voter casts multiple ballots or for a variety of mail-in issues. At a previous commission meeting, Gloria said that discrepancies occur in every election.

“There’s no election that goes without discrepancies that are identified,” he said. “In particular, this time, with such a large mail ballot number, that number that I’ve identified is in the thousandths of percent.”

The exact nature of the discrepancies in District C is unclear. Brown asked Gloria on Tuesday to go into more depth about the nature of the anomalies, but Gloria said that he could only offer hypothetical scenarios that may have caused them.

“We don’t know which voter they are, all we know is they exist, either in the mail, in early voting, or Election Day,” he said.

Gloria noted that there are discrepancies that can be solved, including voters who are a part of the Nevada Confidential Address Program, which allows for the voter records of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and/or human trafficking to be confidential. However, he said that in these cases, he would receive a document explaining the situation and that discrepancy would not be counted in the 139 against the margin of victory.

Gloria previously stated in an affidavit submitted to the court by Anthony’s campaign that he could not certify that the vote in District C was an “accurate representation of the will of the voters” in the region. On Tuesday, he said that the situation in District C is “unique.”

“Over 150,000 people voted in this contest,” he said. “It’s very out of the ordinary for a race with that many votes to be decided by ten. That margin of victory is very difficult to reconcile, no matter what the race is, with 215 precincts.”