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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which legislators had the most success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success for Republican senators in passing bills was more rare.

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

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

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

Which legislators had the least success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When were bills heard and when did they pass?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevada’s drug transparency program could get two years of funding as lawmakers consider expanding its scope

Four years after passing the state’s first drug transparency law, lawmakers may finally put dollars behind the effort as they continue to build upon the original legislation this session.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee this week considered a $780,000 fiscal note from the Department of Health and Human Services on the latest drug transparency bill, SB380, which would allow state health officials to transfer the existing drug transparency database to the state’s Enterprise Information Technology Services Division, where it would live and be maintained moving forward. It also would allow the state to hire a pharmacist to manage the drug transparency program and a management analyst to assist with the program’s facilitation.

The original drug transparency bill passed in 2017 required manufacturers of diabetes drugs that experience a significant price increase to report certain costs and profits to the state, and a 2019 bill expanded that law to include asthma drugs. Neither bill, however, came with dollars attached, leaving it up to the Department of Health and Human Services to figure out how to fold the bills’ requirements into their existing workflow.

“The Department of Health and Human Services has been doing yeoman’s work to fulfill the NRS around transparency reporting — and I don’t want to say duct tape and baling wire, because I think it’s been better than that — but the resources haven’t necessarily been there to do the robust analysis and the robust reporting with the data we have available,” said state Sen. Julia Ratti. “With this bill, we requested the unsolicited fiscal note to really look at, what would it cost to implement our drug transparency program in a sustainable way where we’re not taking a little bit of somebody’s time over here and a little bit of somebody’s time over there.”

The department has suggested covering that fiscal note with roughly $1.1 million in reserves it has collected in penalties and fees from drug companies that have failed to meet the state’s reporting requirements under the diabetes and asthma transparency laws. 

The 2017 and 2019 bills originally envisioned those funds would be used to support diabetes and asthma education programs, a goal state Sen. Julia Ratti characterized as “noble” during the Senate Finance meeting on Wednesday. Using the dollars to instead support the running the drug transparency program, would be “less noble but more practical,” she said.

“We need to fund the actual work that we’re doing first,” Ratti said. “The practicality of it is we have these fees. They haven’t been put to use, and we can cover the cost with them.”

Ratti noted the penalties don’t represent a “long-term sustainable solution” to funding the program because they aren’t a stable revenue source. But she said funding the program this way would allow the state to “mature” the program and then reevaluate the funding source during the next legislative session.

“At that point, we would see how the fees and penalties are coming in for compliance and if they’re not sufficient, it would frankly be up to the governor’s office to decide if they want to put it in their base budget to make it an ongoing program,” Ratti said.

Ratti is shepherding the bill through the legislative process after former state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, the sponsor of the 2017 and 2019 bills, resigned her legislative seat earlier this year to take a job in the Biden administration.

In addition to the funding component, the bill being considered this session would make significant changes to the state’s drug transparency program by shifting the focus from just diabetes and asthma drugs to all drugs over a certain cost that experience a significant price increase. 

Primarily, SB380 would require manufacturers of drugs that exceed a $40 list price, known as a wholesale acquisition cost, for a course of therapy that saw a 10 percent price increase during the prior calendar year — regardless of what disease the drugs are used to treat — to report certain information about the costs and profits associated with producing the drug.

The bill also attempts to capture some limited information at other points in the drug supply chain — requiring prescription drug wholesalers to report to the state certain data points for drugs with a list price exceeding $40 for a course of therapy, including the minimum and maximum list prices of the drug over the last year and the aggregate amount of rebates negotiated with drug companies, manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers — though far less than it had originally proposed to in the first version of the legislation.

Those who testified in support of the legislation during the initial bill hearing in April included AARP Nevada, the Culinary Health Fund, the Retired Public Employees of Nevada and Battle Born Progress. The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which represents pharmacy benefit managers, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which represents drug companies, testified in opposition.

Asher Lisec, deputy vice president of state advocacy for PhRMA, told lawmakers that the bill fails to address the challenges that patients experience in affording and accessing prescription drugs and does not “expressly extend” protections for proprietary and trade secret information. PhRMA also submitted to the Legislature a long list of arguments against the bill, which parallel those drug companies have made in previous sessions.

“I do want to emphasize the importance of looking at all entities in the supply chain in any transparency bill,” Lisec said. “In California, when they expanded their bill to look at transparency for all members of the supply chain, they found that rebates are growing faster than the underlying cost of prescription drugs.”

So far, the state’s diabetes and asthma drug transparency laws haven’t had much of a measurable impact policy wise, a point that state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer made during the Senate Finance hearing and that Ratti acknowledged. That’s at least in part because drug companies have requested that pricing information they are required to submit to the state, and which they believe to be trade secret protected, be kept confidential — leaving the annual reports the state is required to compile more general than proponents originally intended.

But Ratti said during the hearing that she is hopeful that there has been a sunshine component of the legislation.

“Do I believe that those behaviors have changed because now there’s bright sunlight on that Absolutely. Can I quantify that? Not necessarily,” Ratti said. “But I think sunlight and transparency are helpful for changing behaviors.”

Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Legislature. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Follow the Money: Breaking down more than $840,000 in legislative campaign contributions from business interests

The Legislature on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020 during the third day of the 32nd Special Session in Carson City.

Amid a pandemic year that stalled the Las Vegas economy and severely tested the bottom lines of businesses small and large, chambers of commerce and other business interests gave 61 of 63 Nevada lawmakers more than $840,000 in the 2020 election cycle.  

That amount is a sharp increase from the 2018 midterms, where the same group of donors gave just $682,000 overall, and it represents a drastic reversal in party preference. 

In 2018, business-related contributors widely favored legislative Democrats ($400,000 in combined contributions) to Republicans ($282,000). But in 2020, with a handful of Republican challengers unseating Democratic incumbents, the totals have flipped. Sitting Republican lawmakers combined to receive nearly $520,000, compared to roughly $322,000 for Democrats. 

Democrats extended their control of both houses of the Legislature last cycle, though Republicans picked up one seat in the Senate, where they trail 12-9, and three in the Assembly, where they are behind 26-16. 

In order to assess board trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to sitting lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

These contributions capture nearly all campaign spending in that period, and more generally show to who the largest contributions flowed and how much they were worth overall. 

The data in this story show only a slice of the campaign finance pie: 617 contributions from 189 unique donors fell under the umbrella of “business” — a catch-all category in our analysis used to measure donors who might not otherwise fit neatly into other industries. 

However, two legislators are excluded from this analysis, both appointed to their seats following a freeze on legislative campaign contributions: Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas), appointed to fill the seat of former Sen. Yvanna Cancela after her departure for a position in the Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services; and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas), who was appointed to replace Assemblyman Alexander Assefa after he resigned amid a criminal investigation into campaign finance misuse and a residency issue. 

No single lawmaker was a bigger recipient of business-related contributions than Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno), who banked $100,150 from 48 individual contributors. That sum includes three donations of the $10,000 maximum from UFC parent company Zuffa, California businessman Dennis Troesh and the Sparks-based plumbing supply company Western Nevada Supply. 

Gansert was followed by Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas), who received $79,250; Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), who received $65,000; Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) with $62,000; Assemblyman Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas) with $58,400; and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) with $55,700. 

In comparison, most other lawmakers received relatively little from the same group of donors. Of the remaining 55 lawmakers who reported at least one business-related contribution, 39 received $10,000 or less in total, a group that includes 30 Democrats and nine Republicans. 

Most business-related contributions were disproportionately concentrated among a handful of the biggest donors, with just the top-10 contributors combining for more than 52 percent of the $840,000 total.  

Even so, only one donor, Zuffa, spent six figures, while just one other, the Vegas Chamber, spent more than $50,000 — comparatively small amounts in an election that saw more than $10.6 million in overall contributions. 

A sports promotion company founded by Station Casinos’ CEO Frank Fertitta III as the parent company for UFC, Zuffa is frequently among the largest single donors of any given election cycle. In 2020, that support amounted to $128,000 across 40 legislators, enough to make the company the sixth biggest legislative donor in the entire election, among all industries. 

That amount also more than doubles the company’s spending from last cycle, which totaled just $51,750.  

Much of the money was concentrated among 28 Democrats, who received $89,000 compared to just $39,000 spread across 12 Republicans. Those amounts nearly equalize on average, however, with the average Republican receiving $3,250 to the average Democrats’ $3,178.

Like most major donors, many of Zuffa’s top recipients were a mix of legislators either locked in highly competitive reelection campaigns, in positions of legislative leadership, or both. 

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) and Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) all received the $10,000 maximum, while Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) followed behind with $8,000 and $7,500, respectively. 

Zuffa’s other recipients generally received far less, with seven lawmakers receiving $5,000, and the remaining 28 receiving $3,500 or less. 

The largest chamber of commerce in the state, the Vegas Chamber (formerly known as and often referred to in campaign finance filings as the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce) led all business groups in contributions with $74,000 across 29 lawmakers, or about 8.8 percent of business-related contributions made last year. 

That combined total represents a small dip compared to spending last cycle, when the chamber led all business donors with more than $88,000 in contributions. 

A slight majority of that money went to Republicans — $39,000 to the Democrats’ $35,000 — though Democratic lawmakers received slightly more on average, $2,692 to the Republicans’ $2,437.

Most of the chamber’s contributions were fairly small, averaging out to roughly $2,500 overall. Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, the chair of the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee, was the only legislator to see a maximum $10,000 contribution from the Vegas Chamber. 

Carlton was followed by Hammond, who received $6,500, and four lawmakers — Cannizzaro, Frierson, Gansert and Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas) — who received $5,000. Of the remaining 23 recipients, none received more than $3,500. 

Waste management company Republic Services — contributing under its Nevada-based subsidiary Republic Silver State Disposal Inc. — gave more than $46,000 to 42 legislators, a slight reduction from spending in 2018, when the company gave lawmakers nearly $58,000 combined. 

Overall, the company’s contributions vastly favored Democrats, who combined to receive $32,750 to the Republicans’ $13,500. Those differences also remained in the average contributions, with Democrats receiving $1,310 to the Republicans’ $794. 

Unlike most other top donors last cycle, Republic Services’ contributions were relatively small. Just two legislators — Frierson ($7,500) and Cannizzaro ($5,000) — received more than $2,000, while 20 other recipients received just $500.

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives over the coming weeks into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: 

Follow the Money: Breaking down $1.7 million in legislative campaign spending from PACs, political groups and politicians

The Legislature on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020 during the third day of the 32nd Special Session in Carson City.

Of more than $10.6 million spent on Nevada legislative races in the 2020 cycle, no single group of donors, corporate or otherwise, spent more money than candidates, politicians and political PACs, which combined for more than $1.7 million spread across 61 of the state’s 63 lawmakers.  

That represents an uptick compared to 2018, when the same group of donors gave less than $1.4 million in the aggregate. 

Of these donors, dozens of candidate campaign committees — i.e. the formal fundraising accounts for each individual campaign — combined to be by far the largest single chunk with more than $931,000 contributed. They were followed by political groups and related PACs ($556,000), candidate-linked PACs ($117,500) and loans from candidates to their own campaigns ($113,366).

Broadly speaking, these contributions came in smaller chunks, and no single donor spent more than five figures in combined contributions. And, though the sum of these contributions has increased overall, many individual donors — especially issue-related or politically affiliated PACs — contributed less money than they did in 2018. 

In order to assess broad trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to sitting lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

These contributions capture nearly all campaign spending through that period, and more broadly show to whom the largest contributions flowed and how much they were worth overall. 

The data in this story show only part of the broader whole: 978 contributions from 271 unique donors fell under the umbrella of candidate or political PAC contributions. 

There are, however, two legislators not captured in these numbers, both appointed to their seats after the election and after a freeze on legislative contributions. They are Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas), who replaced former Sen. Yvanna Cancela following her appointment to a post in the federal Department of Health and Human Services; and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas), who replaced former Assemblyman Alexander Assefa after he resigned amid a criminal probe into the misuse of campaign funds and a residency issue. 

No single lawmaker raised nearly as much as Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), who brought in more than $215,000 from 45 contributors for her highly competitive re-election bid last year. 

Almost half of that money — an even $100,000 — came from just 10 donors giving Cannizzaro the maximum of $10,000 allowed by state campaign finance law. Four of those max-donors — Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas), Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) and Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) — were fellow legislative Democrats, while the rest came from former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and three more politician-related PACs. 

Those PACs include Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Sandstone PAC, Sen. Jacky Rosen’s Smart Solutions PAC and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s All for Our Country Leadership PAC.

Rounding out the list of top fundraisers are a number of other lawmakers who found themselves in extremely competitive — and consequently extremely expensive — elections. That includes Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-Reno), who raised $147,450; Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama, who raised $147,138, including roughly $119,000 in candidate loans; Sen. Carrie Buck, who raised $130,800; and Sen. Roberta Lange, who raised $113,650. 

All of those top fundraisers received a mix of PAC and campaign committee funds, though only one, Kasama, saw a massive fundraising boost from the addition of candidate loans made to her campaign. For the purposes of this analysis, those loans do not formally make Kasama a “contributor” like other major donors listed below, but still represent a massive influx of campaign cash relative to other campaign contributions. 

The near-$119,000 Kasama loaned her own campaign was so much that, if counted with other donors, it would make her the 10th largest legislative contributor in the entire election, sandwiched between the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association PAC ($119,000) and the public workers’ union AFSCME ($114,500). 

Unlike industry-related spending, contributions made from candidates, candidate PACs or political groups were largely diffuse, with no single donor giving more than five-figures (excluding Kasama’s candidate loans, which do not share the same fundraising role as other contributors listed here). 

Those top donors otherwise include a mix of politicians and issue-focused groups, including Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson with $68,000 contributed; the Humane Society-linked Humane Nevada PAC with $60,500; the Keystone Corporation, a Nevada-based conservative group, with $50,000; and the pro-Democratic Party, pro-abortion rights and pro-women candidates group EMILY’s List with $48,300. 

Below is a breakdown of spending from those top-donors. 

With generally little risk of an election loss in a deep blue district — Frierson has won each of his last three elections by between 16 and 20 percentage points — a non-trivial portion of the speaker’s sizable campaign warchest has, cycle by cycle, trickled down to a number of his fellow Democratic lawmakers. 

In 2020, that included contributions to 10 assembly colleagues and fellow legislative leader Cannizzaro, who received the maximum $10,000 from Frierson’s campaign. 

Other lawmakers receiving that maximum include incumbent Assemblywomen Michelle Gorelow (D-Las Vegas) and Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson), as well as legislative newcomer Elaine Marzola (D-Henderson), with the remaining recipients all receiving $5,000 or less.    

A pro-animal rights PAC linked to the Humane Society, Humane Nevada PAC was unique among top politically affiliated PACs in its contributions to members of both parties. The group gave $60,500 spread across 33 lawmakers last cycle, with $45,500 going to 21 Democrats, and the remaining $15,000 going to 12 Republicans.  

A new PAC to the 2020 cycle — it was created in 2018 but did not spend any money until last year — Humane Nevada’s contributions were also generally small, rarely exceeding a few thousand dollars. Among its recipients, no legislator received the maximum contribution amount and only two — Cannizzaro ($7,500) and Frierson ($5,000) received more than $3,500. 

A Nevada-based non-profit corporation organized in the 1990s around advocating for conservative policy, the Keystone Corporation has since served as a reliable donor for state Republicans. 

In 2020, that amounted to $50,000 spread across 20 Republican lawmakers, all but five members of the Legislature’s Republican caucus. And, as with a number of other major donors, Keystone’s biggest contributions flowed to some of the most competitive races. 

The two biggest recipients were Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas) and Assemblyman Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas), who each received the $10,000 maximum. Four Republicans — Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas), Assemblyman Richard McArthur (R-Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) and Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) — received $5,000, while the remaining 14 received $2,000 or less.     

A national group prioritizing the election of Democratic, pro-abortion women candidates, EMILY’s List is routinely among the top politically affiliated PAC donors in each Nevada election cycle. In 2020, those donations — split across both EMILY’s List and the EMILY’s List NF Fund PAC — amounted to $48,300 across just 10 legislators, all women and all Democrats. 

The four biggest recipients were Cohen ($11,500), Marzola ($10,000), Cannizzaro ($9,900) and Gorelow ($9,900), with the remaining six receiving just $1,500 or less. 

Still, that amount is roughly 37 percent less than EMILY’s list spent in Nevada in 2018, when its $77,000 total made it the spendiest single political group of the entire cycle.   

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives over the coming weeks into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: 

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

Follow the Money: Breaking down the biggest legislative campaign contributions from the 2020 cycle

Nevada Legislature building

Even amid a crushing global pandemic and the worst economic crisis to hit the state since the Great Recession, more than $10.6 million in big-money campaign contributions flowed to 61 Nevada lawmakers through the two-year 2020 campaign cycle. 

Of that money, nearly half — roughly $5.1 million — came from just five industries: real estate and development, unions and labor groups, health care groups, other candidates or politicians and business interests. 

Even in Nevada, which boasts a non-professionalized citizen Legislature, legislative candidates routinely raise tens-of-thousands of dollars per cycle, and those in the swingiest districts often raise six-figures or more. 

And though candidates tout the many small-dollar gifts to their campaigns, the vast majority of any warchest is filled almost entirely by big-money spending on the part of political action committees, corporations, wealthy individuals and political groups. 

To break it all down, The Nevada Independent categorized more than 7,700 individual contributions greater than $200 — a cutoff that excludes most small-dollar individual contributions, but still captures nearly all money raised by Nevada legislators. 

This data set does not capture every contour of the state’s campaign finance landscape. Of note, it excludes contributions to losing candidates, as well as those contributions under the $200 threshold. 

The data also excludes two lawmakers who were elected in 2020, but resigned before the legislative session began: Sen. Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas), who left to take a post in the Biden Administration's Department of Health and Human Services, and Asm. Alexander Assefa (D-Las Vegas), who resigned amid a criminal probe into alleged campaign funds misuse and a residency issue. 

Still, taken as a whole, the data provides a collective picture of how Nevada's biggest industries fund campaigns for state office. 

Over the coming weeks, The Nevada Independent will dive deep into the specific spending of each industry — including how that money was spent and on whom. 

Below are highlights of the data reflecting contributions and who made them. For toplines on which lawmakers received the most money, you can read the first installment of our Follow the Money series here

Spending by the biggest industries

Of more than 30 industries, real estate and development companies led by far with a combined $1,346,644 contributed to nearly every lawmaker elected last year. That money was distributed by more than 240 companies, PACs and individuals, who collectively gave 965 contributions to 60 different legislators. 

Labor unions and the health care industry were the only other categories to crack the million-dollar threshold. 

In total, 63 individual unions, labor groups or related individuals gave 52 lawmakers $1,028,892 — nearly 10 percent of all money contributed through 2020. More than 150 health care companies, PACs and individuals likewise contributed $1,002,401 in total. 

Other major industries or donor groups include other candidates or politicians ($931,700), business interests ($841,300), the gaming industry ($769,100) and law firms, lawyers and other legal groups ($607,330).

Among the industries or groups tracked in The Indy’s analysis, just four gave less than $100,000: Education groups ($98,271), marijuana companies ($86,500), tribal groups ($30,500) and agricultural companies ($10,950). 

The biggest single donors

Of the more than $10.6 million donated to Nevada lawmakers through last year, nearly a fifth — about 19 percent — came from the 13 single contributors who gave more than $100,000. 

Much like national campaign finance laws, Nevada laws do not limit the amount of money that can be contributed directly to PACs, rather than candidates. As a result, by far the biggest spenders of any given cycle, 2020 included, are industry PACs, themselves funded by dozens of individuals and corporations, both small and large.

The biggest single spender among that group was the Nevada Realtors PAC, which spent $397,000 across 155 contributions to 57 legislators. That sum nearly doubles the next closest single-contributor, the trial lawyer PAC Citizens for Justice Trust, which gave $203,500 to 36 legislators. 

The remaining list of big-spenders also includes some of the largest companies in Nevada and a handful of the most powerful nationwide industry groups and unions. Statewide utility NV Energy gave lawmakers $167,500; a PAC associated with health care company HCA gave $142,500; the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA likewise gave $140,500, while Zuffa — parent company to the Ultimate Fighting Championship — gave $128,000. 

Who gave the max

In Nevada, single-donor contributions are limited to a maximum of $10,000 per election cycle per candidate, with a further limit of $5,000 per election (i.e. $5,000 each for the primary and the general). 

And though these maximum contributions make up just a fraction of the total number of individual donations made — just 529 out of more than 7,700 — they also often make up a sizable portion of any given candidate’s fundraising, especially considering the median legislative fundraising haul of about $117,800 through the 2020 cycle. 

Including contributions of both $5,000 and $10,000 lump sums, the Nevada Realtors led the way once more with $5,000 gifts for 12 legislators and $10,000 each for Republican Assembly members Andy Matthews and Heidi Kasama and Sen. Carrie Buck. 

Citizens for Justice Trust came next, contributing $5,000 to seven lawmakers, and $10,000 to five, all Democrats: Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, Asm. Steve Yeager, Asm. Edgar Flores, Asm. Elaine Marzola and Asm. Howard Watts. 

Other major maximum-donors likewise include a number of the biggest overall spenders: Nevada Gold Mines, the Home Building Industry PAC, the Nevada Health Care Association PAC, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, health care corporation HCA and the public employee’s union, AFSCME, all gave at least 10 contributions of $5,000, and all gave at least one $10,000 contribution. 

Contributions by party

Though most industries give freely to members from both parties, those contributions are frequently — and predictably — distributed unevenly. 

For instance, 25 legislative Republicans received far more money from real estate groups ($810,194 in total) compared to 35 Democrats ($536,450). Likewise, union and labor contributions went almost entirely to Democrats, who received 94 percent of all union contributions.  

Other major splits also appeared in health care contributions ($600,601 to Democrats, $401,800 to Republicans); business contributions ($519,350 to Republicans, $321,950 to Democrats); gaming contributions ($426,300 to Republicans, $342,800 to Democrats) and legal industry contributions ($470,450 to Democrats, $136,879 to Republicans). 

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report. 

Freshman Orientation: Senator Fabian Doñate

As in sessions past, The Nevada Independent is publishing a series of profiles featuring all the new lawmakers in the state. This is the fourth installment of more than a dozen. Check back in the coming days for additional stories on new legislators' backgrounds, interests and policy positions.

SENATOR FABIAN DOÑATE

  • Freshman senator who replaces former Democratic Sen. Yvanna Cancela, the first Latina in the Nevada Senate. Cancela was elected to a four-year term in 2018 but resigned in early January to take a position in the Biden administration.
  • Represents District 10 in Central-East Las Vegas 
  • District 10 is heavily Democratic (55 percent Democratic, 19 percent Republican and 27 percent nonpartisan in the 2020 election for active voters)
  • Doñate will finish out Cancela’s remaining term, which will end in 2022.
  • He will sit on the Education Committee and chair the Natural Resources Committee.

FAMILY AND EDUCATION

Doñate was the first person in his family to graduate from college and holds a bachelor’s degree in public health from UNLV and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Maryland, College Park. Born in Los Angeles, the senator grew up in Las Vegas and is the oldest of five children — four boys and one girl. 

CAREER

For his first job, Doñate worked as an elevator attendant at the Strat Hotel, Casino and SkyPod, formerly known as the Stratosphere. 

From there, he worked as a pool attendant at the hotel and then worked a number of odd jobs throughout college. He also volunteered with the immigrant advocacy organization Make the Road Nevada, served on the Biden campaign’s National Health Policy Committee, worked as a regional account management coordinator for the American Cancer Society and interned for Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.

The senator now works remotely as a health consultant for the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

PROFILE

Doñate said he was first struck by the American health care system's inequities when his father, an immigrant from Zacatecas (a state located in North-Central Mexico), was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. 

There were no Spanish translators available and Doñate, a teenager at the time, remembers navigating unfamiliar medical jargon in two languages, acting as a middleman between his Spanish-speaking parents and an English-speaking doctor.

"Having to translate for my dad as a teenager really shocked me," Doñate said. "The physician should have known better. I feel like a lot of kids like me shouldn't have ever been put in a position like that, but because of the gaps that we have in society, it happened."

Though the experience was frustrating and not uncommon for children of immigrants, Doñate said it triggered a desire to enter the public health field and learn how to improve the health and working conditions for people such as his father and mother, who work in Las Vegas' service industry.

Doñate, who at 24 is the youngest lawmaker in the Senate, said he had initially planned to run for office when he was 30 after gaining more experience. However, with the public health crisis brought on by the pandemic, he felt his expertise in the health care field could be an asset to lawmakers, so he put forward his application to represent his district.

"I will sacrifice everything if it means being a voice and helping solve some of those gaps that are being observed," he said. "It's for my family, for my community, for those that came before me and those that will follow after. I want my legacy to cement those who will follow after from a public health perspective, from a Latino perspective."

Doñate grew up in the district he now represents, surrounded by extended family in a diverse neighborhood consisting primarily of Latino families and casino workers.

In elementary school, the senator remembers being surrounded by other kids from similar backgrounds, but that changed when he began going to the East Career and Technical Academy magnet school —  a public school with a specialized curriculum that accepts students from outside zoned boundaries.

Attending the magnet school gave him a plethora of academic opportunities that he would not have had otherwise. Still, Doñate felt disconnected from his Latino heritage in a school that had a predominately white and wealthy student body.

He remembers being exposed to different music and social experiences than his Latino peers, with parties and sweet 16 celebrations replacing fiestas and quinceañeras.

"I got very lucky because I went to a magnet school, but it is a hard thing just to go back and forth," Doñate said.

Visits to Mexico with his family helped Doñate feel more connected to his roots. Still, those trips petered out by the time he reached middle school. It was not until he started attending UNLV that he began to re-immerse himself into the Latino community through various organizations such as Make the Road Nevada, an immigrant advocacy group. 

A course on multicultural health also opened Doñate's eyes to how class and identity shape health care outcomes and launched him into public health advocacy and politics. 

"I just learned from that one class about how your identity and who you are already predetermines what your health care outcome is going to be. And it made me realize and appreciate what my background was and how I came to be," Doñate said.

One of the benefits of growing up in a meld of cultures is the exposure to a wide range of music and food, Doñate said. He explained that his father listens to regional music from Mexico, his mother listens to R&B and his friends like pop music, which has shaped his eclectic music tastes. 

For Doñate, sharing a meal or listening to music is a way to build community. 

In his free time, he makes playlists capturing a mood or feeling and featuring everything from classic rock to electronic dance music. The senator even made a playlist for his trip up to Carson City that he shared via Twitter.

Though he loves trying new foods, he said his favorite meal is his aunt's homemade mole, a traditional Mexican dish similar to curry served over meat and eaten with rice.

"Music can be used to illustrate and document stories and hardships sometimes, but it's also something that connects us all together, from different perspectives kind of like food," he said. "Food brings people together and I feel like music can do the same thing."

Doñate's father is a member of the Culinary Union, and his mother is a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The senator credits the union membership for his parents' health insurance, which allowed them to receive medical care and helped reduce out-of-pocket costs that could quickly consume savings.

Though his high school, ranked as the top magnet school in the country in 2018, helped him receive an excellent education and pursue higher education, Doñate said that not everyone in his position has the same opportunities.

"I think it's just a classic example of how where you go to school really does impact your education," Doñate said. "But also, just the untapped potential that kids like me who probably don't get as much attention could have."

The desire to increase access to health care and education and address social inequities ultimately inspired Doñate to pursue politics to create social change.  

"We can't just have the discussion on how to make everything equal, we have to make sure that we are providing equity and certain circumstances to achieve justice, whether that's in racial justice, health justice, all of this, all intertwines," Doñate said.

Fabian Doñate is sworn into office as a state Senator in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

ON THE ISSUES

Public health

Many frontline and essential workers are from communities of color, Doñate said, exposing them more to the pandemic's effects. He is hoping to advance legislation that will address public health disparities.

That includes focusing on health literacy and increasing understanding of the vaccine and why it is vital to improve public health infrastructure and prioritize protections for frontline workers, Doñate said.

As the pandemic worsened, Doñate said that he knows of many people who died from COVID. 

"Having that knowledge and that background, not only can I relate to that, I can be an advocate for them so that we can fix some of the inequities that are being experienced right now in the community so that the right people are getting the vaccines quickly and efficiently," Doñate said.

Health infrastructure

The senator said that he would like to find ways to expand PPE production, offer translation assistance for non-native English speakers, increase access to paid sick leave and pursue health and sexual education reform to help students and young adults develop healthy habits as they get older.

Doñate added that he would also like to increase undocumented families' access to health care services.

"My priority is that not only can we fix the things that are happening right now, but lay the foundation so that the state doesn't ever have to go through this ever again," Doñate said. "And so that we start to really improve on our entire health of the entire Nevada population."

Taxes

In an op-ed Doñate penned in July, he said that though some legislators are "afraid to use the T-word," some tax increases will be needed.

Since joining the ranks of the lawmakers, Doñate said that he stands by his words and is not afraid to discuss a topic that many lawmakers shy away from addressing.

Nevada's public health and education system are underfunded, he said, and the state needs to look at innovative ways to fund those necessities, including re-examining existing tax structures.

What tax increases look like or whether the state should pursue a new tax or property taxes is still up for discussion, Doñate said.

"I still have to do my own research as to, will they actually make a difference or do we have to start looking at other alternatives?" he said. "The unfortunate reality is that the old normal cannot continue because we've seen just how underfunded this state has been."

Doñate said that he could not remember a time when the state had a secure budget.

"I just graduated in 2014 from high school, and I still remember in middle school and high school having ripped books because the school couldn't afford to replace them," he said. "I grew up in an environment in a state that was … underfunded. So if it means taxes or some sort of other way to fix them, then let's do it; let's have that conversation, I'm not afraid of that."

Clark County Commission appoints public health advocate, nonprofit executive to fill vacant legislative seats

The Assembly chambers on Friday, July 31, 2020 during the first day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City.

Clark County commissioners have appointed a UNLV graduate and public health advocate, Fabian Doñate, to fill a vacant state Senate seat, and nonprofit executive Tracy Marie Brown-May to fill a vacant Assembly seat.

Fabian Doñate (Image courtesy of Clark County)

The commission unanimously appointed Doñate during its meeting on Tuesday to take over the vacant state Senate seat for District 10, after the Senate Democratic Caucus recommended him for the position. He replaces Yvanna Cancela, who was elected to a four-year term in 2018 but resigned in early January to take a position in the Biden administration

“Fabian’s experience in public health will help guide us in making sound public policy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said in a statement after the appointment was made. “Fabian has deep ties to his community. As the son of immigrants and Culinary Union members, he understands the challenges working families face and the need to expand access to quality, affordable, health care.”

Tracy Brown-May (Image courtesy of Clark County)

The commission also chose Brown-May, the director of advocacy, board and government relations for the nonprofit Opportunity Village, to fill the seat in the Assembly District 42. The seat was vacated by Democrat Alexander Assefa after he resigned last month amid a criminal investigation. 

“We are all too aware of the hardships our families are facing and I’m humbled to be trusted to help lead our families towards a healthy and economic recovery,” Brown-May said in a statement. “I do not take this charge lightly and I am ready to put my years of experience advocating for people with disabilities to work immediately.”

Under state law, the county commission is designated to select a replacement lawmaker of the same political party who resides in the district to carry out the remainder of Cancela’s term. In 2017, Cancela was appointed by the commission to fill the vacated state Senate seat of Ruben Kihuen, who left the Legislature to run for Congress.

The appointments fill out the roster of the state’s 63-member Legislature, which gaveled in to its 120-day session Monday with the two positions still vacant.

Doñate is a native of Las Vegas and an alumnus of the UNLV School of Public Health and recently earned a Master's degree in health administration at the University of Maryland. 

In his application, Doñate described his experiences advocating for health policies during the pandemic and throughout his graduate degree.

“Given the disparities that have been intensely magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve spent these past few months at the forefront of this crisis,” the application reads. “Under the supervision of LifeBridge Health, a health system in the Baltimore region, I completed a graduate internship that provided me with the contextual knowledge on crafting evidence-based strategies with the inclusion of policy and technology to improve the public’s health.”

Doñate, a Latino who resides in District 10, seeks to improve the district’s health care and racial disparities exasperated by the pandemic for a “‘healthier’ Nevada.”

“This vacancy was my call to action, and I’m eager to represent my district during this tumultuous period in our state’s history,” Doñate said in his application letter. “Now more than ever, Nevada needs a diverse cohort of leaders that can help guide our state into recovery.”

Brown-May said in her application for the position that she’s lived in the Las Vegas valley for nearly 30 years, including three years in District 42 — an area that includes Flamingo Road from Durango Drive to the I-15. 

For the past two decades, she has supported and advocated for the community on a local and federal level. She’s worked at Opportunity Village since 2001, and helped found two nonprofits that help people with disabilities.

“I have participated in the legislative process and understand the hard work that goes into effectuating positive change,” Brown-May said in her application. “I am most proud of the times when common ground can be found to create positive solutions for the majority.”

Six file to fill vacant Assembly seat ahead of legislative session

Six people have applied to fill a Las Vegas area Assembly seat left vacant when Democrat Alexander Assefa resigned his post amid a criminal investigation.

Clark County officials said the eligible candidates who submitted their applications by the midday Tuesday deadline were:

  • Jack Absher III, president of Absher Enterprises, which consists of businesses including two Long John Silvers franchises and commercial real estate
  • Chris Hardin, a real estate investor
  • Juana Leia Jordan, a retired psychologist with the state Department of Corrections
  • Saramei “Sara” Kalaoram, a former research analyst and communications intern with the Culinary Union
  • Tracy Marie Brown-May, an executive at Opportunity Village, a nonprofit that serves adults with disabilities in Southern Nevada
  • Izack Tenorio, director of development at Cristo Rey St. Viator, a college preparatory high school

The Clark County Commission has the responsibility to choose from among the applicants, and will likely choose a replacement during its meeting on Feb. 2. The person must live in the district and be a Democrat, the same party as Assefa.

Three submitted applications were not accepted by county officials; one was not properly notarized, one was filed by a person who lives outside the district and another was filed by a registered Republican.

Commissioners also must fill a Senate vacancy left when Democrat Yvanna Cancela resigned to take a job in President Joe Biden’s administration.

Follow the Money: Ahead of legislative session, sitting lawmakers report raising more than $10.6 million in combined big-money donations

The Nevada Legislature building

With just one week to go before the start of the 2021 legislative session, a Nevada Independent analysis of campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state show the state’s 61 sitting lawmakers raised more than $10.6 million in big-money donations (those greater than $200) in the 2019-2020 campaign cycle. 

That total — which excludes two legislators who resigned their seats after the election — represents a small dip from the 2018 cycle, which saw the state’s 63 legislators raise roughly $10.8 million in big-dollar donations ahead of that year’s midterms. 

In a traditional presidential election year, fundraising would swell to match the increased public attention on the ballot. But the 2020 cycle — ever the outlier — likely saw fundraising depressed both by the lack of any high-profile statewide race, such as for governor or U.S. Senate, and by a hiccup in contributions in the second quarter of 2020 as rigid and widespread coronavirus shutdowns disrupted much of the economy.

Still, some state lawmakers continued to pad their war chests, and, as is typical, the single largest fundraisers this cycle included both top legislative leaders and the winners of a handful of key competitive seats.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, was the only legislator to fall in both categories. She won re-election to her Summerlin-area seat by less than 1 percentage point, and she ultimately led all fundraising among legislators with $1,043,064 raised through 353 contributions, or roughly 9.8 percent of the money contributed to all legislators in the last two years. 

Cannizzaro was followed by Sen. Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, who won her own hotly-contested re-election bid by about 3.6 points, and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, who is routinely among the largest fundraisers in Carson City. 

Gansert reported raising $878,295 through 525 contributions, or roughly 8.3 percent of the total legislative money raised through 2020, while Frierson reported $694,078 raised through 267 contributions, or 6.5 percent of the total. 

Other major fundraisers include Sen. Carrie Buck, R-Henderson ($482,650), Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas ($404,110), Assemblyman Andy Matthews, R-Las Vegas ($395,500) and Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama, R-Las Vegas ($327,269). 

All other legislators raised less than $300,000 over the course of the cycle, with an average fundraising total of $174,0117, and a median haul of $117,866. 

No legislator raised less than $20,000 and only eight raised less than $50,000, among them five senators who were not up for reelection in 2020 and three Assembly members representing safe, non-competitive districts. 

These totals do not include either Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, who left her seat this month for a post in the Biden Administration's Department of Health and Human Services, or Assemblyman Alexander Assefa, D-Las Vegas, who resigned his seat a day later amid a criminal probe into alleged misuse of campaign funds and a district residency issue.  

Though Democrats led totals, Republicans led on average

Even as the state’s 36 Democratic legislators outgained their 25 Republican rivals — raising $5.8 million to the GOP’s $4.7 million — Republican lawmakers raised far more on average, $190,902 to the Democrats’ $162,461. Similarly, the median Republican also outraised the median Democrat, $123,550 to $111,314.

Much of that difference comes down to leading Republican fundraisers in a handful of narrowly-won competitive districts, among them many of the top GOP fundraisers overall: Gansert, Buck, Hammond, Matthews and Kasama. All won competitive races in either swing districts or narrowly-Republican districts and all raised more than $300,000.

Similarly, though the 41 sitting members of the Assembly outraised their 20 sitting Senate counterparts, $5,988,483 to $4,632,699, state senators still received far more on average — even accounting for a handful of senators who did not mount re-election campaigns this cycle and raised little as a result. The average senator raised $231,634, compared to just $146,060 in the Assembly. 

Hundreds of thousands in spending poured in after the election

Even after Election Day, every sitting legislator continued to receive thousands of dollars in last-minute campaign donations. Taken together, contributions made after Nov. 3 total just over $784,913. 

Many of those contributions were small, considering the scale of all contributions made to legislators over the course of the two-year election cycle. Only 14 of 61 sitting lawmakers received more than $15,000 in post-election contributions, and only five received more than $35,000. 

Those five were also already among the biggest fundraisers: Cannizzaro ($76,000 raised post-election), Sen. Chris Brooks, D-Las Vegas ($54,500), Matthews ($49,950), Frierson ($45,750) and Buck ($38,000). 

Such contributions are not uncommon, especially among special interest groups looking to contribute to lawmakers ahead of the formal legislative process. And among the legislators who received most of this money, late contributions were nearly entirely composed of those from PACs, corporations, unions or industry groups.  

Far and away the largest spender in those groups was the Nevada Realtors PAC, which doled out $42,000 across 13 legislators on both sides of the aisle. Other major contributors included the Nevada Mining Association ($33,500 for 31 legislators), payday lender Dollar Loan Center ($22,500 for seven legislators) and the Humane Nevada PAC ($17,000 for 12 legislators). 

The Nevada Realtors PAC was also the single largest donor across the entire two-year cycle, contributing $326,000 to 55 of the 61 sitting legislators. The next largest single donor, the trial lawyer PAC Citizens for Justice Trust, gave $203,500 to 36 lawmakers, while the third-largest, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, gave $138,500 to 44 legislators. 

However, these topline figures represent only a fraction of the total spending by any given industry. 

Though industry groups, corporations and related PACs are routinely the biggest spenders of any given election, analyzing exactly how much money was contributed by such groups and to whom is often an opaque, difficult-to-track process. Corporations frequently contribute through multiple subsidiary LLCs or give massive lump sums to PACs, often as a means of circumventing campaign finance laws limiting the maximum amount any one donor can give any one candidate in a single election cycle. 

Through the “Follow the Money” series, The Nevada Independent will be analyzing these funds over the course of the legislative session, breaking down just how much money both individual donors and entire industries gave to the state’s 63 lawmakers. 

Nevada Independent intern Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

Former regent, political operatives among 19 candidates seeking to fill state Senate vacancy

The Legislature on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020 during the third day of the 32nd Special Session in Carson City.

A total of 19 individuals, including a former member of the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, have applied to fill the state Senate seat vacated by Democrat Yvanna Cancela weeks before the start of the 2021 Legislature.

The applications will go before the Clark County Commission during its Feb. 2 meeting. The board is designated under state law to select a replacement lawmaker of the same political party who resides in the district to carry out the remainder of Cancela’s term.

Cancela, elected to a four-year term in 2018, resigned in early January to take a position in the Biden administration. She was appointed by the commission to fill the vacated state Senate seat of Ruben Kihuen, who left the Legislature to run for Congress.

Two applications were not accepted — one was not properly notarized, and another was filed by a registered Republican.

Senate District 10 covers portions of the Las Vegas Strip and is considered safely Democratic, given the disparity in voter registration between the two major political parties.

Among the candidates:

  • Melissa Clary, who ran unsuccessfully in 2019 for the Las Vegas City Council seat now held by Olivia Diaz, has worked at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and at the Las Vegas Planning Department
  • Greg Esposito, a lobbyist who has worked as a campaign manager and supported a range of ballot initiative campaigns
  • Keenan Korth, who has worked for the Clark County Education Association teacher’s union, as well as the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and progressive congressional candidate Amy Vilela
  • Lisa Levine, a former staffer for Rep. Dina Titus who was appointed by the governor and served as a regent for the Nevada System of Higher Education.
  • Hergit Llenas, who has worked as a national director of Latino outreach for the American Federation for Children, a school choice group
  • Heather Harmon, deputy director of the Nevada Museum of Art
  • Adriana Martinez, a former chairwoman of the Nevada State Democratic Party

Other applicants for the seat include:

  • Elisabeth Apcar, a handbag designer.
  • Sergio Bustos, a UNLV student
  • John Delibos, who has been president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of Southern Nevada
  • Fabian Donate, a graduate intern at LifeBridge Health
  • David Lopez, who has been a Las Vegas parks commissioner
  • Stephanie Molina, a researcher at UNLV
  • Jonathan Norman, an attorney at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada
  • John Ruse, a real estate investor
  • Dorian Stonebarger, a policy adviser for Las Vegas City Councilman Brian Knudsen
  • Kai Tao, who has worked as a hedge fund manager
  • Erik Van Houten, who teaches AP government at Equipo Academy
  • Marc Wiley, a retired police officer

Updated on Jan. 20, 2021 at 8:42 a.m. to include that an additional applicant had submitted paperwork to the Clark County election officials.