The gavel fell June 1 on the 2021 session of the Nevada Legislature, with several contentious measures clearing the Democrat-majority chambers in party-line votes and others getting through with help from a handful of GOP lawmakers.
The session’s end is officially called “Sine Die,” Latin for adjournment without an appointed date to reconvene. As is their custom, lawmakers jammed lots of horse-trading and deadline decisions into the frantic final days of the 120-day, biennial festival of proposals.
New laws include measures that will raise taxes on the mining industry, make mail-in voting permanent, redesign the way schools are funded, set up a public health insurance option, provide some protection for renters evicted during the pandemic and ban “ghost guns.”
Proposals that didn’t make the cut include: a measure to ban the death penalty; a law changing the way casinos restrict guns on their premises; and a bill that would have allowed terminally-ill patients to choose suicide over long-term suffering.
Here’s a look at some of the high-profile measures that we’ve been following this year that have become law or await the governor’s signature:
Hike in the mining tax
None of the three mining tax resolutions, passed in a special session last summer, got much attention during the regular session. Those would have sent ballot issues for increased mining taxes to the voters. Instead, mining industry lobbyists, teachers’ union negotiators and lawmakers crafted an 11-hour deal for a 1% tax hike on the gross value of extracted gold and silver. The law, AB495, is expected to generate $85 million in annual public school funding.
The union and progressive groups were satisfied with that result, which cleared both chambers in mostly party-line votes. Republican lawmakers who voted for the bill did so after charter schools were included in the measure.
The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, a group that has long advocated higher taxes on the mining industry, said AB495 isn’t perfect, but will make a big difference in raising the quality of education in the Silver State.
“Funding vouchers or unaccountable charter schools is unacceptable, but it was important for us to raise revenue for public education and prove our point: the mining industry in Nevada should and can pay what it owes to Nevadans,” said Laura Martin, PLAN’s executive director. “This deal is a strong start to addressing the privileged position mining has, and in no way lets them or any corporation off the hook for using our state to make their shareholders rich to the detriment of every Nevada’s quality of life.”
Legislators in the August special session passed AB1, which mandated that ballots be mailed to all of the state’s registered voters prior to the General Election, a system that had already been used in the June 2020 primary.
The mail-in system was made permanent by AB321, which also includes a provision that allows a third party to fill out and hand in someone else’s ballot. Republicans deride that practice as “ballot harvesting,” and all GOP lawmakers opposed the measure, which passed on a party-line vote.
Republicans allege that such changes make it easier to game the system, but there’s no evidence of widespread election fraud either in the state’s primary or the 2020 General Election. Nevada is the sixth state to adopt a comprehensive mail-in voting system.
AB141, a bill requiring the eviction records of tenants kicked out of housing during the pandemic to be automatically sealed, passed both chambers on a party-line vote and has been signed by Gov. Steve Sisolak. Proponents said the bill was needed to protect tenants who would have trouble finding places to live if an eviction action showed up on their records.
Landlords, including some lawmakers who own income property, opposed the bill and said it may drive some landlords out of the market, thus worsening the already-inadequate amount of rental properties available.
A provision of the bill that would have required landlords to give some long-term tenants two or three months of advance notice before being kicked out under a “no cause” eviction was stripped from the bill.
The public option
The bill to establish a public option for health insurance, SB420, will become law. Nevada now becomes the second state in the union offering that alternative as part of its health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act.
SB420, although considered modest by most standards, still drew fierce objections from insurance company lobbyists, hospitals and some business interests. The law requires private insurers to offer a discounted health plan that can be sold individually or through the state’s ACA insurance exchange. Opponents mounted an ad campaign that condemned the idea and predicted dire effects on patients and rural health care systems.
The United States of Care, among the proponents of the bill, issued a statement saying the measure’s passage was “a day of great progress and promise for Nevadans… This critical legislation will significantly reduce both the cost of health coverage and the number of Nevada residents forced to go without health insurance because they can’t afford it.”
The group noted that the Silver State ranks 49th overall in state health system performance and it’s one of the least-insured states, despite having expanded Medicaid. “The pandemic has shown a light on many of the longstanding shortcomings in Nevada’s health care system and has made all too clear that people need dependable coverage that is with them through life’s changes, like losing a job or starting their own business,” said Liz Hagan, United States of Care’s director of policy solutions.
In a bipartisan vote, the Legislature passed AB115, a bill that allows for more than two adults to be legally recognized as parents through adoption. Proponents of the measure said the law adopts important protections that create stability for Nevada’s children and families and creates uniform parenting laws that decrease occurrences where only a select number of judges allow multi-parent adoptions.
The bill allows for cooperating families to petition the court to seek an adoption that results in more than two parents; it allows for all consenting parents to share in the duties and responsibilities of raising the child; and it allows for second-parent adoptions to be recognized without terminating the existing parent’s rights.
Silver State Equality, Nevada’s statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, which supported and advocated for the bill, hailed the passage of AB115 as important legislation that will help a community “where the denial of parental legal rights has often had detrimental effects on family cohesiveness.”
Taking aim at ‘ghost guns’
The bill to ban “ghost guns,” AB286, prohibits the sale and possession of build-your-own weapons, which, because they lack serial numbers, are untraceable. Backers of the bill said the measure closes a loophole that allowed people who would otherwise be prohibited from buying firearms to acquire gun parts and assemble a gun themselves.
The measure passed with zero votes from Republicans. Nevada now joins California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and the District of Columbia in banning such firearms, which aren’t prohibited under federal law.
The bill originally included a provision giving casinos and other businesses more power to ban firearms on their properties. That provision was spun out into AB452, backed by casino interests, which cleared the Senate but did not come up for a vote in the Assembly.
Decriminalizing traffic tickets
Nevadans will no longer be subject to going to jail over unpaid traffic fines under AB116, which decriminalizes minor traffic offenses.
Another criminal justice bill, SB212, is aimed at prohibiting police officers from using deadly force before trying de-escalation techniques. The measure also addresses some riot-control tactics that resulted in serious injuries during protests last year. Police are prohibited from firing non-lethal rounds, including so-called rubber bullets, into a crowd or targeting a person’s head, pelvis or other vital areas.
The bill passed without any Republican votes.
‘Sundown siren’ silenced?
In Minden, a siren has been activated daily at noon and 6 p.m. Town officials say it is a tribute to first responders, but local native people have long considered the evening blast as a warning that Indians needed to be out of town by 6:30 p.m. (under an ordinance that was repealed in 1974).
The controversy has gone on for decades. The evening siren blast was discontinued for two months in 2006, when a city manager ordered it stopped after meeting with members of the Washoe Tribe. But many town residents wanted the tradition reinstated and it was again scheduled to sound twice a day.
Minden officials have said they will ignore the state’s new ban on sounding the 6 p.m. siren.
More new laws
- Lawmakers passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 11, which creates a special committee of lawmakers to study the idea of Innovation Zones, which would be self-governing entities carved out of existing counties. The zones are tied to a proposal for a “smart city” to be built just east of Reno by Blockchains LLC. The committee is charged with reporting back to the Legislature after the end of the year.
- AB126, a bill ending the Silver State’s primary caucuses, passed with a mostly party-line vote. That bill clears the way for Nevada to set the date for a first-in-the nation presidential primary.
- SB448, requires NV Energy to spend $100 million over three years to construct electric vehicle charging stations across the state. The law also expands tax credits for large battery storage systems and calls for the creation of a task force to study the possibility of joining a multi-state wholesale electric market.
- SB386 gives workers who lost their jobs to layoffs during the pandemic the “right to return” to work at pre-pandemic wages.
- AB484 allocates $54 million in federal dollars to overhaul Nevada’s overwhelmed unemployment insurance system. The measure also will enable the state’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to upgrade its obsolete computer system, which was near collapse under the weight of unemployment claims filed during the pandemic.
The Legislature will meet in special session later this year to decide the allocation of federal COVID-19 relief funds and other matters. The dates of those sessions are yet to be announced.