‘Extremely serious:’ Federal regulators declare first-ever shortage on the Colorado River as water officials look toward a drier future

Arizona and Nevada will face first-ever cuts to their Colorado River supplies next year, federal officials reported Monday. The shortage declaration is a historic determination for a watershed parched by aridification and overuse and which supports roughly 40 million people in the Southwest, including Las Vegas. 

The cuts announced by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation mark a significant moment in the management of a river that stretches across seven states and two countries, winding from Wyoming to Mexico and diverted along the way for use by cities, tribes, agriculture and businesses.

In a statement, Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for water and science, said "the Colorado River is facing unprecedented and accelerating challenges."

“The only way to address these challenges and climate change is to utilize the best available science and to work cooperatively across the landscapes and communities that rely on the Colorado River," she said. "That is precisely the focus of the White House Interagency Drought Working Group — a multi-agency partnership created to collaborate with states, tribes, farmers and communities impacted by drought and climate change to build and enhance regional resilience.”

Southwest water officials have seen the cuts coming for more than a decade, going as far as to outline in detail how shortages would work in multistate agreements. But the speed at which the cuts have come has been striking for the public. This summer, the river’s two largest reservoirs — banks to store water — dropped to their lowest levels since they were first filled last century.

"At the real foundational level, we've got a water balance problem,” said Anne Castle, a fellow at the University of Colorado Law School and a former Interior Department official. “We have to use less water in order to bring the system into balance. That's the real foundational issue.”

The cuts will reduce the amount of water that Arizona and Nevada are allowed to divert from Lake Mead. The reductions in water deliveries, outlined in two major multistate agreements, will hit Arizona the hardest. The state is poised to lose nearly a fifth of its Colorado River supply, and agricultural producers in central Arizona are expected to face particularly challenging cuts.

In Nevada, the shortage declaration will not affect day-to-day water use, yet current and former Las Vegas water officials stress that the situation on the Colorado River is a serious one for the entire Southwest. The river accounts for about 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s drinking water. 

In an interview, John Entsminger, who runs the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said the drought on the Colorado River is “extremely serious.” But, he added, it is important to recognize that the water authority’s resource plan shows a “safe and secure water supply through 2071.”

Beyond the practical implications, researchers and experts who study the Colorado River said the unprecedented shortage, amid an ongoing drought during a summer where the effects of climate change have been on full display, should serve as a warning for the whole Southwest.

Climate change is stressing an already overworked system. Hotter temperatures and prolonged drought are having a significant effect on not only how much precipitation accumulates on the mountains that feed the Colorado River, but also how snow runs off into the waterways that feed the river.

Entsminger said the greatest long-term risks to the Colorado River, from the water authority’s perspective, “are climate change impacting the amount of water that’s in the river and the ability or inability of seven states and the country of Mexico to adapt to those changing conditions.” 

The cuts are tied to the level of Lake Mead, based on a projection released each August. If that model shows the reservoir below 1075 feet above sea level in January of the next year, a first tier of cuts will kick in. This year, the model projects that the reservoir will hit 1,065.85 feet in January.

If snowpack accumulates in the headwaters of the Colorado River this winter, it could stave off further cuts. Yet record-low reservoirs put the watershed in a difficult position moving ahead.

“We’re dangling our toes over the edge at this point,” said Pat Mulroy, who managed the water authority for two decades and now serves as a senior fellow at the UNLV Boyd School of Law. 

The cuts come as Colorado River water managers face tough negotiations in the coming years over the future of a watershed facing a more arid future and less water to go around. So critical are the negotiations that there is intense discussion about the process for how they will proceed.

In 2007, the last time Colorado River managers agreed to operating guidelines for the river, the 29 federally-recognized tribes within the watershed were left out of the process, despite having rights to about 20 percent of the river.

With a new round of negotiations approaching, Nora McDowell, a project manager for the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, said that each tribal government should have a spot at the negotiating table.

“It's been an unbalanced approach. And I think a more balanced approach — the inclusion of the tribes — is critical and needs to be a key part of the negotiations coming up,” she said.

An official with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the river, said in June that their “intent is to have an open and inclusive process” for upcoming negotiations. 

But what does that look like as states have already begun, at least informally, to lay down their markers? And how does it comport with a culture, among water users, of dealmaking in closed negotiating rooms or the hallways of Caesars Palace at an annual Colorado River conference?

“If it is true consultation, each of the tribes should have a seat at the table,” McDowell added. “Whether the government wants to have that or not, there’s no question about it: They should.”

What is clear is that water users across the basin must plan for a future where there is less to go around. The challenge is how to do that within the confines of current demands and existing rights, said Sarah Porter, the director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. 

“Fundamentally, I think there needs to be a consensus that we are entering a drier future and our discussions really have to start from there,” Porter said during an interview last week. 

A sprinkler waters ornamental grass in Summerlin on Monday, June 1, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

In Las Vegas, the water authority is continuing to focus on conservation actions, like reminding residents that fall water restrictions go into effect on Sept. 1 and removing ornamental turf from the valley by 2026. This approach, water officials say, is why Las Vegas is prepared for the cuts. 

Of all the states that use the Colorado River, Nevada has the smallest allocation of just 300,000 acre-feet (an acre foot is the amount of water that can fill one acre to a depth of one foot). To put it in perspective, Arizona and California are entitled to 2.8 and 4.4 million acre-feet, respectively. 

Even with a small supply, Las Vegas has stretched it out through reuse — with water to spare. Because the water authority recycles most of its indoor water and with aggressive conservation measures in place, Nevada is already using about 50,000 acre-feet less than the full allocation. 

That means Las Vegas will be able to weather the cuts, which reduce the state’s allocation by 21,000 acre-feet next year. Further cuts could reduce Nevada’s allocation by 30,000 acre-feet. 

But the stability of Southern Nevada’s water supply rests on what happens over the next few years. Las Vegas has reduced use while hardening its infrastructure. With a third intake in Lake Mead, Southern Nevada can physically draw water from the reservoir under extreme conditions.

In the hopes of freeing up more Colorado River water, Las Vegas officials have also invested in a water recycling project with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. That project could be buoyed by the infrastructure bill, which includes funding for large-scale water recycling.

A construction crew is lowered into the Southern Nevada Water Authority's low-level-pumping station access shaft near Lake Mead on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

At the same time, Clark County is looking to plan for new growth, updating its antiquated Master Plan and development code while pushing to open up thousands of acres of federal public land for homes and businesses. Las Vegas is not alone. Officials in other Southwestern states also anticipate new growth. Over decades, new growth will continue to stretch the water budget. 

In recent decades, municipalities, including Las Vegas, have continued to grow their populations while keeping overall water use in check by reducing per-capita demand through conservation. 

"The cities in the Southwest have shown that population growth doesn't have to mean more water use,” Castle said last week. “And Las Vegas has done that particularly successfully.”

But growth across the Colorado River Basin concerns some conservationists and social justice groups. They worry that having more people dependent on the river will only add further strain.

“Instead of two million dependents, they will have three million dependents,” John Weisheit, a Utah-based conservationist with Living Rivers, said, referring to Las Vegas growth projections.

"Cities don't have to grow for the sake of growth,” he added.

Over the past year, Las Vegas has doubled-down on its conservation measures, requiring the removal of decorative turf — grass in medians and roundabouts — by 2026. The prohibition, passed by the Legislature, came as part of a recognition that voluntary conservation was no longer going to be enough. To pass the legislation, the water authority got buy-in from major business groups, convinced the measure was necessary as Clark County looks to grow. 

At the same time, Las Vegas is still reliant on the Colorado River for a majority of its water.

“Vegas comes the closest to having solved their own problems but being entirely dependent on the greater Colorado River system to solve its problems,” said John Fleck, a water researcher at the University of New Mexico whose work focuses on the river. 

The fact that Las Vegas depends so heavily on its Colorado River allocation makes the coming negotiations important. The negotiations will center around creating the playbook for operating the river in a drier future (the current guidelines for operating the river are set to expire in 2026).  

Boaters wait to launch at Lake Mead's Hemmingway Harbor on Friday, June 25, 2021. A sign warns boaters of low lake levels. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Experts said those negotiations have already started, at least in some respects, as states talk to each other and alliances around common interests appear to be forming between water users.

Entsminger said he likens the negotiations to a “very big wedding” with “a lot of tables, and lots of people moving around between the tables.” The negotiations do not happen all at once.

“One of the fundamental mistakes people misunderstand about the negotiation process is that there is one single table where these negotiations are being made,” Entsminger said. 

What is on the table — the range of discussion — is another open question. 

Entsminger said that he would like the negotiations to look several decades out. Doing so, he argued, would give water users the certainty to make much-needed investments in the river. 

“I think you need what I referred to as a sliding scale of operations,” he said. “I think you need shortage measures in the Lower Basin that account for extremely bad hydrology, like Lake Mead operating below 1000 feet, for instance. But I also think you need operations in place if you have extremely wet years. You see some climate scientists say the 21st century in the Rocky Mountains might vacillate between extreme drought and extreme floods.”

And at the center of the negotiations are several long-standing technical, yet consequential, issues about how the river is to be allocated and operated, especially under climate change. A recent working paper examined the legal issues around some of these ongoing controversies. 

Mulroy said the current discussion should be expanded to look at augmenting the system. She said the current approach, focused on reducing particular demands, is not going to be enough.

“Everybody’s talking about conservation and buying [agricultural] water or leasing ag water or partnering with ag,” Mulroy said in a recent interview. “All that is wonderful. But it’s not enough. I mean, at some point, we have to have a serious discussion of augmenting the system.”

As to what augmentation looks like, she said everything should be on the table. But during the interview, she specifically mentioned desalinization. Others, including officials in Arizona, are looking seriously at augmentation strategies, even holding public meetings on the subject. 

Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, speaks during a news conference with other Colorado River Basin officials at Hoover Dam on Thursday, July 15, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

At the same time, groups are calling on officials close to the negotiations to seriously recognize the limits of the river and to plan for worst-case scenarios included in climate change models.

“It's one river,” said Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which represents a coalition of rural and environmental interests. “But entities want to manage it as seven or nine different rivers. Nevada's fate being tied to other states is unquestionable.”

Last month, his group helped lead a demonstration of environmentalists, elected leaders and Laughlin business officials at the Hoover Dam. Tick Segerblom, a Clark County Commissioner and a water authority board member, joined the group, as did J.B. Hamby, who sits on the board of the Imperial Irrigation District, the largest single water user of the Colorado River. 

They called for a moratorium on new dams and diversions that could further strain the shrinking supply. The coalition criticized Utah’s Lake Powell Pipeline, a controversial plan to pipe water from Lake Powell to a fast-growing area of Southern Utah, which includes St. George. 

When looking at the Lake Powell Pipeline, growth and other projects, Roerink said officials need to think differently about the limits of the river. How much new development can it really sustain?

"I view it as society has a lot of hard questions to ask itself and its leaders,” Roerink said last week. “What we've seen in past years is band-aids over gunshot wounds. The question now is are we going to keep doing the same thing over and over again? We're truly at a tipping point.”

McDowell, a former chairperson of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, said that’s one of the reasons it is so important to include other voices in the negotiations. Decision-makers, in the past, have not always managed the river with everyone’s interests in mind. She would like to see the river’s environment managed in a more holistic way, rather than have it be used as an economic tool.

"There have to be more laws in place to preserve the quality of the river and the health of the river,” McDowell said. “They have to look at it as a human being. It's the lifeblood for everyone who uses the river.”

Mask on: How renewed mandate is playing out from the Strip to the rurals

A week after the return of a broad indoor mask mandate in the state’s most populous counties, elected officials across Nevada received an earful from constituents chafing at the rule.

Roughly two months after lifting most COVID-19 related restrictions, Gov. Steve Sisolak again ramped up the state’s mitigation efforts amid another surge of cases largely attributed to the more contagious Delta variant. Nevada’s seven-day rolling average of new cases has eclipsed more than 1,000 since the end of July, and Sisolak announced Friday that the state had crossed the milestone of 6,000 COVID-19 deaths. 

Michelle White, Sisolak’s chief of staff, acknowledged Friday at the state’s weekly press briefing on COVID-19 that the restrictions during the latest setback would be unpopular.

“No one wants to have these requirements in place,” White said. “No one wants to have kids returning to school in masks. No one wants to have their gatherings with masks.”

But even with more stringent steps to combat the pandemic — including mandating COVID vaccinations or weekly testing for state employees — local governments have had widely divergent responses to the situation.

In Clark County, members of the county commission debated but didn’t take immediate action on offering $100 incentives to unvaccinated people. But in rural county commission meetings elected officials and members of the public urged noncompliance with the new mandates.

“Now they're pretending that the pandemic is worsening and they need to reinstate mask mandates and business closures,” Elko County Commissioner Rex Steninger said during a meeting on Wednesday. “We can't let that happen again. We must refuse to comply this time, our local businesses depend on us refusing to comply.” 

In spite of the chorus against face coverings, Nevada’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said it had not yet issued many citations to businesses for mask-related violations.

As of Thursday, state Division of Industrial Relations Administrator Victoria Carreon said that OSHA has not been instructed to begin any random checks of businesses complying with the revised mask mandate or other COVID-19 safety precautions.

Instead, Carreon said OSHA was continuing to operate on a largely complaint-based model — a necessity given that the agency only employs about 40 inspectors statewide. She added that complaint volume had picked up “a bit” in the past week — an OSHA dashboard showed 65 complaints received by the agency since the mask-wearing requirement was reinstated last Friday. The agency received only 22 COVID-related complaints in the preceding four weeks.

OSHA additionally issued a revised COVID-19 guidance to businesses on July 30 outlining the new mask-wearing guidelines. Carreon also noted that OSHA operates statewide, independent of local jurisdictions.

Mask-wearing does not make someone immune to catching the virus, but CDC guidance shows that it can protect those around mask-wearers and even offer some protection to wearers themselves. 

Here’s a look at how government bodies responded to the reintroduced mask mandate over the past week.

Clark County commissioners during public comment on Tuesday, July, 20, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Clark County delays another vaccination incentive

During their Tuesday meeting, Clark County commissioners discussed the idea of putting $100 in the pockets of newly vaccinated individuals, hoping that distributing dollars directly to Clark County residents would drive up a vaccination rate that remains just over 50 percent.

“I thought it was the craziest idea in the world, but then the president said ‘Oh, it’s a great idea,’ so what the hell,” said Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who proposed the idea.

The plan comes after President Joe Biden’s call for state and local governments to encourage vaccinations with cash payments. Segerblom’s proposal would allot money for up to 100,000 Clark County residents with dollars from the American Rescue Plan, which provided states with resources for incentive programs such as the Vax Nevada Days raffle.

Colorado, New Mexico and Ohio are among a number of states that have piloted $100 incentive programs. Segerblom added that The Cosmopolitan resort implemented similar payments to employees to drive their employee vaccination rates to 80 percent.

While open to the idea, some commissioners voiced concerns on the price tag — an initial $10 million allocation — and the subsequent distribution. 

“I understand the goal and I think all of us have a sense that we need to do what we can,” Commissioner James Gibson said. “I'm a little concerned about the size of the commitment.”

The idea was tabled.

Visitors to Fremont Street Experience on Thursday, July 8, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Gaming woes over soaring cases 

Skittish investors showed their concern over new COVID-19 mask regulations nationwide by sending stock prices of several Strip casino companies downward in value earlier this week.

Chief executives from the Strip’s largest gaming operators used their quarterly earnings conference calls to alleviate those worries and boost the prices back up by Thursday.

In Nevada, the Gaming Control Board imposed mask requirements inside casinos for both employees and customers on July 27 at properties in Clark, Washoe and 10 other counties.

During a press conference Thursday in Las Vegas, Gov. Steve Sisolak said he didn’t want to impose any additional mandates or closures, calling the current mask requirement a “bridge” in helping slow the recent COVID-19 spread.

Sisolak said he would seek advice from his medical advisory team for additional recommendations on how to make large gatherings safer. The recommendations will cover crowds inside entertainment venues associated with casinos.

Sisolak cited last weekend’s CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer championship between the U.S. and Mexico at Allegiant Stadium as an example. The nationally televised game featured images of maskless fans despite the mandate that facial coverings be worn at indoor events. Allegiant Stadium, which has a translucent roof, is considered an indoor stadium. The game attracted 61,514 fans.

“Everyone that walked through the turnstile had their masks on, and 10 minutes into the match, the masks all came off,” Sisolak said. He wants the venues to also come up with plans that are “more effective for compliance and for enforcement.”

The Las Vegas Raiders are the operators of Allegiant Stadium, but a spokesman for the team did not return an email message seeking comment.

Casino operators along the Strip said they are abiding by the mask mandate. Caesars Entertainment CEO Tom Reeg said Tuesday the mask mandate was “far less onerous” compared to the restrictions the gaming company dealt with before June 1, when all COVID-19 operating guidelines and protocols were lifted.

Reeg said the current public health situation could result in “bumps along the way in terms of masks and protocols that we need to follow.” However, he said Caesars is seeing “exceedingly strong” demand from customers that “has continued to build.”

MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle said Wednesday it was too early to gauge any meaningful effect the current outbreak has had on business levels.

The highway outside of Tonopah on May 9, 2021. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

Rurals revolt

The Elko County Commission unanimously banned door-to-door “solicitation” of COVID-19 vaccines during a meeting Wednesday afternoon and decided not to enforce the mask mandate in place for most of Nevada’s 17 counties, including Elko.

Some advocacy groups, including Mi Familia Vota, have been canvassing neighborhoods in Las Vegas to encourage residents to get vaccines.

“It should be a blanket ban,” Commissioner Rex Steninger said. “Don’t come to our county and be knocking on our doors.”  

Commissioner Wilde Brough said that while he’s not against vaccines and believes people should get them of their own free will, he was against the door-to-door solicitation as it could lead to “undesirables” going into people’s private space, resulting in “mischief.” Commissioner Delmo Andreozzi said he saw it as a form of “intimidation or coercion.” 

“I don’t think door-to-door solicitation of your medical records is appropriate,” said Commissioner Cliff Eklund. “Just like soliciting votes, I’m against it.” 

Organizers and volunteers are prohibited from seeking medical information while providing information about the virus or vaccines. 

A crowd of more than 20 people at the meeting, most of whom were maskless, erupted into cheers and applause following the commissioner’s remarks. There were no public comments against either of the motions to ban door-to-door solicitation or the mask mandate. 

“I wasn’t going to speak, but what I want to tell you is I'm proud of you guys,” said Assemblyman John Ellison (R-Elko) during the public comment period. “You did the right thing. Check it in advance. But what we have to do is we got to believe in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights … God bless you.” 

One public commenter asked if the Elko sheriff’s office might need help in enforcing their decisions and volunteered herself as a potential “posse” member, should they need it. 

The new masking guidelines also met ample resistance at Tuesday’s meeting of the Nye County Commission, which considered an item that would strengthen the county's masking rules in accordance with Sisolak’s directive. 

In a public comment period, more than 40 people spoke in opposition and said they wanted to keep mask-wearing optional, including at schools, with some saying that they were constitutionally entitled to the choice.

“My child, my choice. My body, my choice,” attendee Kristy Labelle said. “And I think that's the way we should go.”

Among them was Joey Gilbert — a Reno attorney and a Republican candidate for governor.

“Unless this virus has grown by over 500 percent in the last year — because we all know that science apparently now evolves, according to the Democrats — unless this thing has grown by 500 percent, the masks don't work,” Gilbert said.

Only three people spoke in support of masking rules. 

“Give us a chance to wear the mask for two months, and see if anything happens,” attendee Tom Waters said. “If the positivity rate goes down, you know the masks work.”

Opponents of the mask mandate found sympathetic ears among commissioners — Commissioner Donna Cox made spurious allegations about the governor's wife, invoking her heritage. Kathy Sisolak is Chinese-American.

A few days later, the governor issued a statement on Twitter saying he was "furious after hearing vile, blatantly racist comments made against my wife" and called on every Nevada Republican elected official and candidate "to join me in calling out this bigotry."

"Kathy and I, along with so many others, have worked hard to fight back against the anti-Asian racism brought on by misinformation regarding COVID-19, but comments like these only take us backward," he said on Monday. "Now is a time we should be coming together to get us through what has been one of the hardest times in our state, not attacking one another."

At the meeting, Commissioner Leo Blundo stated his support for the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) and opposition to critical race theory. 

“[Mask mandates are] control of the public, control over the people, control over your children,” Blundo said. “Control over what you do, what you say, what you think.” 

The commission opted to not cast a vote to align county rules with the state's directive and let the item die.

And at the Lyon County Commission meeting on Thursday, Commissioner Ken Gray called the mask mandate "political showmanship," saying that only 0.03 percent of COVID-19 cases in Lyon County are breakthrough cases and expressing his opposition to a mask mandate in the county. Other commissioners agreed. 

“One of the reasons that [people] got the shot, the vaccine, was to get rid of the mask,” Lyon County Commissioner Robert Jacobson said at the meeting. “So what I’m hearing is that those people that got vaccinated are now wearing the mask because of 0.03 percent? Are you kidding?” 

Jeanne Freeman, public health preparedness manager at the Carson City Health and Human Services, defended masks and the staff work to boost Lyon County’s 37 percent vaccination rate.

“If vaccination rates go up, then we can see that that mitigation effect can be there and we're less likely to have the spread and therefore more likely … to be able to take those masks off,” Freeman said. 

County Manager Jeff Page alluded to public backlash against staff who are trying to increase vaccination rates. 

“There have been unkind things thrown at the people who provide services for us. They have nothing to do with [making] the policy,” Page said.  

Reporter Riley Snyder contributed to this story.

Updated at 2:38 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2021 to add statement from Gov. Steve Sisolak.

Extreme heat is here, but not everyone has access to an essential service: A/C

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.

As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you’re seeing on the ground and how policies are affecting you. Email me with any tips or suggestions at daniel@thenvindy.com

To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here.

Record-breaking temperatures swept across the West last week. On Saturday, Las Vegas tied its all-time temperature record of 117 degrees. As of Tuesday, the National Weather Service in Reno reported 12 days of temperatures over 100 degrees to date this year, far exceeding the previous record of seven days. Death Valley again hit 130 degrees. 

Extreme heat, made worse by climate change, is a public health issue, often underreported and hidden from public view in a way that other natural disasters are not. It is a slow-moving crisis. Heat can increase hospitalizations as high temperatures worsen underlying conditions. 

And extreme heat can be fatal. Oregon and Washington have reported a death toll of nearly 200 people during the record-breaking heatwave. In areas like the Pacific Northwest, with temperate weather and less air-conditioning, the consequences of extreme heat can be even greater. 

Still, in cities such as Las Vegas, where summers are historically warm, extreme heat poses major public health risks. 8 News Now recently reported that heat was a primary factor in 124 deaths last year and 12 deaths so far this year, according to the Clark County Coroner. 

From July 7 and July 11, the Clark County Fire Department said that it responded to 85 incidents categorized as heat or cold exposure, though that number likely undercounts what in reality was a higher number of calls. A spokesperson for the department said in an email that other calls, categorized as “unknown problem” or “unconscious people,” were heat-related.

If extreme heat can be life-threatening, access to cool spaces can often be life-saving, and increasingly so, as temperatures rise. But for many, there are significant barriers to accessing cool spaces, whether inside their homes or at work. This summer, that fact has been exacerbated by A/C supply chain and workforce issues.

With different geographies and average temperature, the situation is different in Las Vegas or Reno. But in both of Nevada’s metro areas, some groups — low-income households, renters, outdoor workers, elderly populations, homeless individuals — are at a greater risk of not being able to access indoor cooling or shade. 

In Reno, which has seen a nearly seven-degree increase in average annual temperatures over the last 50 years, city officials recognized this in their climate plan. They wrote: “Extreme heat creates public health impacts when vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, seniors and low-income residents, don’t have air conditioning or other options for relief.”

The next line was a harbinger of what’s to come as the climate changes: “Extreme heat events are projected to increase in magnitude and frequency.”

It’s important for policymakers to begin thinking about these issues now and in a “holistic way,” said Dylan Sullivan, a Reno-based senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council who recently wrote a post on extreme heat that included recommendations for policymakers.

Sullivan’s background is in energy efficiency, and he notes that the conversation is not only about A/C. Homes that are inefficient tend to trap heat and stay warmer. Although there is funding for “weatherization” programs to retrofit and upgrade older homes, the current programs do not go far enough (the infrastructure bill being debated in Congress looks at releasing more weatherization funding).

“Putting in place policies that make it really easy for customers — and really cheap or free for low income customers — to weatherproof old buildings and keep cool air indoors is really important for long-term climate adaptation in Nevada,” Sullivan said.

But ensuring access to indoor cooling is also a big part of the equation. Sullivan said “there's a big role for the electric utility” in helping customers install efficient A/C systems. 

In NV Energy’s Las Vegas service territory, an average market profile for the residential sector, using 2016 data, shows central A/C saturation at about 88 percent, according to a report that the utility filed with state regulators as part of a resource planning process. Other residential customers have room A/C-units, air-source heat pumps or rely on evaporative cooling.

Compare that to Northern Nevada. In NV Energy’s northern service territory, which serves Reno and a large swath of the northern part of the state, central A/C saturation is closer to 57 percent and room A/C saturation is 12 percent, according to the same report.

The utility currently offers discounts for replacements or upgrades in Las Vegas but not in the northern part of the state. Sullivan said he would like to see the program expanded.

“The company should be operating a program like that in the North,” he said.

But even for people with A/C units, repairs can be costly and challenging, especially for renters. A backlog of work orders or resistance from a landlord can leave customers without A/C for days, sometimes during the hottest parts of the year.

Under Nevada law, landlords are required to provide renters with essential services. The list includes things like a functioning door lock. It also includes heat and air-conditioning. 

“It's clear there in the statute that air conditioning is an essential service that's required to be provided by a landlord,” said Aaron MacDonald, a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. 

Most of the issues, he said, are resolved before they come to his office. But if a landlord does not fix the issue, then renters approach the Legal Aid Center. If the issue persists, a renter may obtain cooling services and deduct the cost up to one month’s worth of rent, obtain other housing, sue the landlord or withhold rent with no late penalty. 

But there are some caveats that stem from another crisis: COVID-19. You cannot withhold rent if you are behind on rent — and many renters are behind on their rent because of the economic fallout of the pandemic. Making matters worse, the state has been slow to disburse rental assistance.

And “if they are evicted, then they are going to be out in the heat homeless," MacDonald said.

On the landlord side, a supply-chain shortage related to the pandemic has slowed A/C repairs in certain cases. Susy Vasquez, who leads the Nevada State Apartment Association, said that her members try to do what they can, sometimes opening model units for renters to ensure they have A/C. But she said that without rental assistance, small landlords are being hit too.

“There are people that are struggling, and there are people that haven't been able to make their mortgage payment because their rent isn't coming in,” Vasquez said. “And they don't have the funds to fix their air conditioner.”

Issues with access to cool spaces are not only limited to the indoors. They play out in a work environment too for many outdoor workers. After a farmworker died in Oregon last month, the state’s governor directed regulators to adopt emergency rules that would protect outdoor workers with water, shade and rest breaks. 

Do you have a personal experience with extreme heat? How has heat affected you? How have you seen temperatures change? I’m working on covering this issue in more depth, and you can read more about our reporting plan here. Please send us your stories at daniel@thenvindy.com.

Here’s what else I’m watching this week:

Little Washoe Lake in Washoe Valley on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

What happened to Little Washoe Lake? The parched landscape is tragic and staggering. A lake outside of Reno, home to largemouth bass, carp and catfish has dried up rapidly over the past few weeks. Nevada Independent photographer David Calvert documented the exposed lakebed and the drying landscape — see his sobering Twitter thread. 

The region is facing extreme drought. Even in a year with a moderate snowpack across parts of Nevada and the West, less water ran off the mountains — filling rivers and lakes — because it was absorbed by dry soils. At Little Washoe Lake, dry conditions decreased the amount of water that ran off into the lake. But it’s not the only climate-related cause of the low-level declines.

The impacts to Little Washoe Lake were sudden and extreme, as if someone pulled a plug out from underneath the lake. For those who had watched the lake in the last drought, the effects seemed extreme, even for the dry conditions we have been experiencing this year. Officials with the Nevada Department of Wildlife began investigating the situation. 

What they found is what the agency’s spokesperson described to me as a “story of extremes.” The lake’s decline is the aftermath of extreme swings in weather, something that researchers predict becoming more and more common as the climate changes. 

Heavy rain in 2017, the same year the Truckee River flooded, washed out a diversion that fed water into the lake. An extreme on one side of the spectrum. Now we are facing an extreme in the other direction: drought. The washed-out diversion, combined with the extreme drought, have contributed to the severe situation at Little Washoe Lake, the wildlife agency said.

We’ll continue reporting on this story and recovery plans for the lake.

Little Washoe Lake in Washoe Valley on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Firefighters battle blazes in extreme conditions: Over the weekend, firefighters in northern California and Nevada faced dry and hot fire conditions. The Beckwourth Complex fire, not far from the Nevada border, grew to be the largest fire burning in California, prompting evacuation orders, including in Washoe County, over the weekend. Noah Berger, a photojournalist for the Associated Press, took striking photos of the fire and the response. 

  • In Washoe County, fire crews quickly responded to the Garson Fire, which broke out Sunday evening near Verdi. As of Tuesday, the fire was about 85 percent contained.
  • The Mercury News’ Paul Rogers on how bad this year’s fire year could become. One quote that stuck out to me: “We’re seeing fire activity that we would normally be seeing in September and October already,” Chief Thom Porter, Cal Fire's director said. “And we have a very long rest of the peak season to go. It’s concerning.”

An Oregon wildfire, a heat wave and an NV Energy alert: NV Energy, along with California’s grid operator, asked customers to conserve power over the weekend. The utility’s goal was to bring down overall demand amid a heatwave that added strain to the Western grid and a wildfire in Southern Oregon that threatened regional transmission lines. The Los Angeles Times’ Sammy Roth has an excellent piece looking at the grid dynamics in California.

  • How much did NV Energy’s request to customers help reduce demand? NV Energy sent this note out to customers Tuesday: “Working together with our smart thermostat program participants and many of our largest customers, you were able to help reduce our energy demand by approximately 300 megawatts.”
The Lake Mead bathtub ring measures about 150 feet at Hoover Dam on June 25, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Watching the Colorado River: Reporter Luke Runyon talked to people across the Colorado River Basin about what they are expecting in a watershed where there is less to go around. It’s a thoughtful and in-depth piece on one of the most important issues facing the Southwest right now. Among the issues facing Colorado River water managers is what shape negotiations will take for deciding how to operate the river after a current set of guidelines expire in 2026. 

Critical to that discussion is who will be at the table. In the past, tribes have been left out of the negotiations over the river, despite having rights to a share of one-fifth of the river’s average flows. The Associated Press’ Felicia Fonseca wrote an important piece looking at the role that the Colorado River Indian Tribes have played in Arizona’s recent Colorado River negotiations.

“We were always told more or less what to do, and so now it’s taking shape where tribes have been involved and invited to the table to do negotiations, to have input into the issues about the river,” Amelia Flores, the chairwoman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, told the AP.

As we have reported, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has focused its efforts on taking out turf, conservation and enforcement. The Guardian’s Oliver Milman went on patrol with a water investigator and wrote more about what the water authority is doing. 

And this morning, a coalition of elected officials (County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, Boulder City Mayor Kiernan McManus), a director for the Imperial Irrigation District and conservationists are holding an event at the Hoover Dam. The group is expected to call for a moratorium on new dams and diversions on the Colorado River.

Governments are looking at higher taxes for the mining industry: This is not just happening in Nevada. Rhiannon Hoyle and Ryan Dube cover the issue in the Wall Street Journal.

An important Thacker Pass hearing is coming up next week: A federal District Court judge in Reno is expected to listen to arguments next week in a case that challenges the approval of the Thacker Pass lithium mine in Humboldt County. Environmental groups challenging the project are asking the court for a preliminary injunction while the case moves forward. I’ve started going through the court documents and there are some interesting declarations. Last month, we wrote about the opposition to the project from Indigenous and local communities around the mine.

Clark County commissioners urge job seekers to seize on hiring rush before unemployment benefits expire

Clark County commissioners are encouraging Nevadans to take advantage of a hiring rush, warning that the high demand for workers could fizzle out once $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits expire Sept. 4.

Commissioners Tick Segerblom and Jim Gibson on Tuesday promoted Las Vegas’s first large-scale, in-person job fair since the start of the pandemic in a press conference at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

“People have to be accountable for themselves,” Gibson said. “It’s not like these jobs will be around forever.”

May numbers showed the unemployment rate at 8.9 percent in Clark County and 7.8 percent in Nevada, both higher than the nationwide rate of 5.8 percent. Some employers across the state have blamed extended unemployment benefits for a difficult rehiring process with fewer prospects, while some recipients of the extra cash credited it for keeping them and their families afloat. Just under 194,000 Nevadans remained on unemployment benefits as of June 26. 

Gibson noted that employers are finding it hard to rebuild their teams and are eager to hire qualified applicants, meaning Nevada workers may be more empowered in their job hunts to get higher level jobs with higher salaries. 

The free event will be held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Friday, and will include more than 100 employers with more than 12,000 open positions. Amazon, Tesla, CVS Health, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts will be among the employers attending with available jobs. Gibson said that some companies could even make new hires that day. 

The Southern Nevada Health District will also be administering coronavirus vaccines to attendees, some of whom would need to be vaccinated in order to become employed by certain companies.

Gibson and Segerblom said that the jobs expected to be available at the fair are not minimum-wage jobs and that several of them will provide opportunity for upward mobility.

“These companies understand the value of their employees,” Gibson said. “This is an opportunity to upgrade.”

But Gibson and Segerblom warned that job-seekers need to act fast to get the positions they want. 

"The reality is that replacing the $300 [in unemployment] is really going to be consequential to families and individuals who need those dollars," Gibson said.

PHOTOS: After more than a decade of starts and stops, $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas is open

The opening last week of Resorts World Las Vegas added to the landscape on the Strip’s north end and ended an 11-year-drought of new megaresort unveilings in Las Vegas. Since 2007, the 88-acre land parcel has had two owners and for eight years was an unfinished structure that sat untouched.

Thursday evening’s grand opening celebration for Malaysia-based Genting Berhad’s $4.3 billion property included a traditional Asian lion and dragon dance, drum performances and a ribbon cutting. But the big event in the porte-cochère of the Conrad Hotel portion of Resorts World will not be the last ceremonial event at the property.

Three areas – a 5,000-seat theater in partnership with AEG, Zouk Nightclub and the property’s spa – are being held back until the fall and winter months while additional enhancements are completed. Singer Celine Dion will open the theater in November.

Genting Chairman KT Lim, during his prepared remarks, also teased that the company is already planning for a second phase on the undeveloped portion of the site.

Lim was praised in remarks during the event by Resorts World Las Vegas President Scott Sibella, Hilton Hotels CEO Chris Nassetta, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick and County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, whose district includes the hotel-casino complex.

Segerblom complimented the construction workers who continued to build the resort during the pandemic. Sisolak said following the ceremony that maintaining construction as an essential business last year when other businesses, including gaming, were ordered closed turned out to be the correct decision.

During the pandemic, construction workers finished – along with Resorts World – Allegiant Stadium, the Las Vegas Convention Center’s West Hall expansion, Circa Casino Resort in downtown and a remodel of Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.

“All those properties have opened, and we’re on our way back,” Sisolak said. “That is something no other city can say they have.”

Sisolak has attended every event associated with Resorts World site: The implosion of the Stardust and the subsequent groundbreaking for Boyd Gaming’s Echelon, both in 2007; the announcement of the sale of the halted Echelon project and site to Genting in 2013; and a ceremonial groundbreaking for Resorts World in 2015.

“It’s done, and (Genting) went through a lot with the property,” Sisolak said. “Who back then would have thought we would have a pandemic to also deal with?”

During Thursday evening and well into Friday morning, Genting and Resorts World executives basked in the adulation from several thousand invited guests participating in a VIP extravaganza throughout the 117,000-square-foot casino. The party progressed onto the five-and-half-acre pool deck, where guests were entertained by celebrity DJs on the sixth-floor outdoor pool area that overlooks the Strip. Images from the evening were shown on the property’s 100,000 square foot LED screen attached to the south facing hotel tower.

During the evening, party guests sampled items from many of Resorts World’s 40 restaurants, including breakfast-centric Sun’s Out Buns Out, Japanese-themed Kusa Nori and Los Angeles chef Ray Garcia’s Mexican oriented Viva!

Resorts World’s food court, dubbed Famous Foods Street Eats, offered guests items of Filipino, Japanese, South Indian, Chinese and Singapore origin, as well as Texas barbecue and Italian cuisine. 

Shortly after a fireworks display from atop Resorts World Las Vegas’ roof, the doors were opened for thousands of visitors waiting to visit the Strip’s first new resort in more than a decade.

Here are some photos from the opening.

A dragon dance procession leads the first customers during opening night at Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Genting Berhad Chairman KT Lim paints a dragon during the Resorts World Las Vegas grand opening party on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Gov. Steve Sisolak holds a souvenir following the Resorts World Las Vegas ribbon cutting on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Rick Hilton with his daughters Paris, left, Nicky and wife Kathy during the Resorts World Las Vegas grand opening party on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Guests mingle around the digital sphere during the opening night at Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
An employee prepares a roulette table during opening night at Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
The scene in the casino area during opening night at Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Guests mingle at Gatsby’s during the Resorts World Las Vegas grand opening party on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
An Elvis impersonator stands in front of luxury cars at the Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Former Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, now UNR president, with his wife Lauralyn during the Resorts World Las Vegas grand opening party on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Guests mingle in front of Viva! during the opening night at Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

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)


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).


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)


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)