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Nevada Legislature Update: Mining for Progress?

Over the weekend, the Nevada Legislature got moving. They’ve since passed not one, not two, but three mining tax amendments. And on civil rights, there was a bipartisan breakthrough on legislation containing some key demands from Black Lives Matter activists. And yet, all it took was a tweet from President Donald Trump to get everyone talking about the continuing partisan divide over voting rights and how to ensure voters’ ability to cast ballots during an active pandemic.

Editor’s Note: Scroll to the bottom for updates on AB 4 and Nevada doing universal vote-by-mail again this fall.
Wait, why is he tweeting about us (again)?

Since we last checked in on the Nevada Legislature last Friday, some interesting things have happened. First, the omnibus voting rights bill AB 4 passed with an amendment that pares down the minimum in-person early voting site requirement to 15 for Washoe County and 25 for Clark County, and the amendment bumps up the supplemental election appropriation for the Secretary of State’s office to $3 million.

To no one’s surprise, AB 4 passed on party line votes in both chambers and is now awaiting Governor Steve Sisolak’s (D) signature. Yet while AB 4 was working its way through the Senate, President Donald Trump tweeted his rage and fury, followed by RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel. Trump has threatened to sue. But considering how prior Republican-led lawsuits failed to stop the vote-by-mail primary, it’s hard to see the federal courts denying the state’s right to conduct the election as the state sees fit now.

Considering Trump’s entry into this fight, we can see how this is defining the 32nd Special Session of the Nevada Legislature thus far. Democrats pass a bill to mail ballots to all (active registered) voters, and Republicans respond with lies about the “danger” of voting the same way Trump does. While the AB 4 saga feels so much like the standard-issue gridlock that plagues Congress, there’s much more happening beyond the realm of Trump’s Twitter tirades.

It’s not enough to just say, “Black Lives Matter”. Are their words matching their deeds?
Photo by Andrew Davey

Just like the increasingly mothballed HEROES Act, U.S. House Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act is also beginning to collect dust in the U.S. Senate, as Republican leaders also show little to no interest in reaching any agreement with Democrats on police brutality and criminal justice reform. So in the federal government’s absence, Nevada is joining a handful of other states in changing their own respective policies on policing.

As we discussed on Friday, AB 3 includes some of the policies Black Lives Matter activists have been calling for, including a ban on chokeholds, changing the state’s use of force matrix, “whistleblower” protection for officers who report misconduct in their departments, and a guarantee for civilians (and journalists) to record police activity so long as they’re not interfering in police officers’ work. On Saturday, AB 3 passed the Assembly on a surprisingly lopsided 38-4 vote. (Only Assembly Members Chris Edwards [R-Las Vegas], John Ellison [R-Elko], Robin Titus [R-Wellington], and Jim Wheeler [R-Gardnerville] voted against.)

Then, there’s SB 2: It’s supposed to be AB 3’s companion bill that regulates police departments’ “internal affairs”, but it’s been running into more trouble. But in another twist, its trouble lies to the left, as progressive groups have decried its tweaking to 2019’s SB 242 rather than a full repeal of the “Officers’ Bill of Rights” and its limits on investigating and taking further action against police misconduct. SB 2 may receive a full Senate floor vote later today, alongside AB 3.

Wait, they now have three mining tax bills??!!
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last month, progressive groups also took issue with Democratic leaders’ reluctance to take up tax reform until their last-minute slapdash mining tax bill came alive, then died, then came back to life, then died again as Republicans ultimately united against it. Democrats are trying again this special session, but this time they have not one, not two, but three different constitutional amendments.

As we discussed last Friday, AJR 1 amends the Nevada Constitution by switching the current 5% net proceeds mining tax cap into a 7.75% gross receipts mining tax rate where 25% of revenue must go to fund public education and the social safety net. SJR 1 puts in place the same 7.75% gross receipts mining tax, but it instead directs 50% of revenue towards an Alaska Permanent Fund style resident dividend program, and it amends 1994’s and 1996’s Question 11 ⅔ supermajority tax rule by exempting the raising of mining taxes from the requirement (while imposing a ⅔ rule for lowering mining taxes). And now, they also have AJR 2, which Democratic leaders have called an “olive branch” to mining companies because it only raises the net proceeds tax cap from 5% to 12%, and that likely means it will bring in less than half the revenue that AJR 1 and SJR 1 can bring in for the state if any of these initiatives makes it to the voters in 2022 for final approval. 

All three mining tax amendments passed both houses over the weekend, but the roll call votes were not all identical. Senator Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) crossed party lines to vote for AJR 2 yesterday after a party-line Assembly vote, while AJR 1 passed both houses along party lines. And in another interesting twist after SJR 1 passed the Senate along party lines, four Assembly Democrats (Maggie Carlton [D-Las Vegas], Richard Carrillo [D-Las Vegas], Dina Neal [D-North Las Vegas], and Ellen Spiegel [D-Henderson]) joined all Republicans in voting against SJR 1 once that bill reached the Assembly floor.

What else are they doing?
Nevada Legislature
Photo by Andrew Davey

Even before the Nevada Legislature returned for this special session, the fight was already underway over the possibility of providing corporate legal immunity in exchange for “good faith” adherence to health and safety standards. Today, it appears that the still pending bill may require even less for legal immunity – just recorded compliance on mask wearing and crowd limits. Yet so far, we’re still awaiting this bill to drop on NELIS.

Meanwhile on the DETR/unemployment front, more progress is being made as SB 3 has made it to the Senate floor following a unanimous “Committee of the Whole” vote of approval. If SB 3 becomes law, it will update the state’s unemployment guidelines to qualify for seven additional weeks of standard federal benefits for Nevada workers while also cutting down on DETR’s internal “red tape” that’s likely hindering some standard UI and PUA beneficiaries in receiving their full income. 

Moving to the Governor’s Office, Sisolak signed AB 1 and AB 2 over the weekend, meaning that AB 1’s “policy grab bag” of changes to previous legislation (most importantly, expanding voting rights to more formerly incarcerated Nevadans), and that AB 2’s final approval clears the way for at least one of the three mining tax amendments to go to voters for final approval in 2022, depending on which of the three pass the Nevada Legislature again next year. And thus far, Sisolak is widely expected to sign AB 4 some time in the near future.

4:10 PM UPDATE: Sisolak signs AB 4.

See? We told you so. But really, it would have been incredibly awkward for the Legislature’s Democratic leaders to put so much work into this bill, and for Democrats here in Nevada and across the nation to put so much effort into defending it, just for Sisolak to abandon it.

So far, Trump continues to threaten to sue “Nevada’s Clubhouse Governor” (????) over AB 4 becoming state law. But again, it’s hard to think of any actual legal basis for Trump to sue in state and/or federal court.

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