This is it, Nevada: The 80th Session of our Legislature is almost over. So what have they done? Since this is the Nevada’s first Democratic “trifecta” (or control of the Governor’s Mansion and both legislative houses) in nearly three decades, we are experiencing some actual progress on key progressive priorities, such as climate action, civil rights, and gun violence prevention. But with the state still facing systemic struggles on public education, health care, and the structure of our overall economy, some activists and long-time #NVLeg watchers are disappointed over another session of legislators kicking these cans down the road.
So let’s take a closer look at the major policy decisions made by the Nevada Legislature, and what these say about the state of our Silver State in 2019.
In the past decade, this state has taken some great strides towards equality. That trend has definitely continued this year. As we noted last week, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) signed SB 94 and SB 179 into law to safeguard Nevada women’s right to legal abortion and expand access to reproductive health care. However, there’s more that’s been happening in this HER-storic women-majority Legislature.
Last month Sisolak also signed SB 97, a bill by LGBTQ+ civil rights pioneer and State Senator David Parks (D-Las Vegas) to end the practice of criminal courts allowing defendants to use the “gay/trans* panic defense” against hate crimes and other felony charges, as was most notoriously used by those charged with the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, in October 1998. The Legislature also gave a second round of approval to AJR 2, a constitutional amendment introduced by then Assembly Member Nelson Araujo (D-Las Vegas, now State Director for U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen [D]) to repeal the 2002 marriage ban that was ruled unconstitutional in federal court 12 years later and replace it with guaranteed marriage equality. After the Senate approved AJR 2 on a bipartisan 19-2 vote on May 23, it now goes to the voters for final approval in next year’s general election.
And just last Thursday, Senate Democrats introduced SJR 8 to add an equal rights amendment to the Nevada Constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry or national origin. The bill was rushed to the floor Saturday, where it received a bipartisan 18-3 vote of approval. SJR 8 now sits in the Assembly. And if the Assembly approves, both chambers must approve it again before it can go to the voters for a final vote in 2022.
Earlier in the session, Sisolak and Democratic legislative leaders rushed to pass SB 143 to put an end to the six-year battle over background checks expansion. On April 1, Democratic leaders began moving Assembly Member Sandra Jauregui’s (D-Henderson) AB 291 to ban bump stocks and repeal the “preemption doctrine” to allow local governments to enact their own gun safety regulations on top of state laws (so long as they don’t conflict with state law). Yet later that month, they killed Senator Julia Ratti’s (D-Sparks) SB 120 that would have allowed family members, law enforcement officers, and/or health care professionals to petition state courts for “red flag” extreme risk protection orders to remove firearms from individuals who pose severe violent threats to themselves and/or others.
But in this past month, the debate over these two bills went completely sideways and resulted in a final bill that hardly anyone originally expected. First, powerful interest groups like the Nevada Resort Association (as in, the casino lobby) and the Teamsters Union panicked over SHOT Show organizers’ threat to move the annual gun convention out of Las Vegas if the state allows Clark County to enact new gun safety ordinances, resulting in that provision being stripped from the bill. Second, Senate leaders gave Ratti’s “red flag” proposal a second chance, as they inserted it into the bill and managed to keep gun safety advocates like Everytown on board while also winning over law enforcement agencies like Las Vegas Metro Police and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department who were more skeptical of the original bill. And third, Senate leaders also added in language from Assembly Member Ozzie Fumo’s (D-Henderson) AB 153 that makes a misdemeanor offense the negligent storage of firearms that could result in children accessing them.
The final result was an omnibus gun safety bill that passed the Senate on a 12-8 party-line vote last Friday. And despite some last-minute complaints from a few on the left over the abandonment of “preemption” repeal, the Assembly soon concurred with the Senate’s amendments and the amended AB 291 now sits on Governor Sisolak’s desk.
Climate action and environmental justice
While the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have been debating the merits and the logistics of a potential “Green New Deal”, Nevada lawmakers have actually been able to make some progress on climate change and environmental justice. For one, Sisolak already signed into law SB 358 in April to update Nevada’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 50% by 2030. More recently, the Legislature passed AB 465 on lopsided bipartisan votes of approval to establish a community solar program for smaller-scale utility customers who can’t do rooftop solar, and Sisolak is expected to sign this bill into law later this week.
Meanwhile “on the water front”, Sisolak is also expected to sign AB 163 to update and expand Nevada’s water conservation efforts. On the flip side, Sisolak has no bill on his desk pertaining to the controversial SNWA Eastern Nevada pipeline project due to legislative leaders’ decision to abandon AB 30 and AB 51.
Getting back to bills that are moving, AB 84 finally passed the Assembly on a 39-0 vote on May 28 after sitting in “money committee purgatory” for most of the session. The state conservation bonds bill then passed out of Senate Finance Committee last night, so it will receive a final Senate floor vote later today. And throughout the session, the Legislature has passed a slew of resolutions to take a stand on environmental issues ranging from the ongoing nuclear controversies (AJR 1) to protecting the threatened sage grouse (AJR 3) and the Trump administration’s proposal to close Nevada’s BLM office (AJR 8).
Stay tuned, as I’ll soon complete our legislative wrap-up with a look at the voting rights, workers’ rights, and economic justice bills (including the budget!) and where they landed this session. I’ll also have one final collection of thoughts up later this week, once the legislators begin leaving Carson City and the dust begins to settle.