Ahead of the session, power dynamics take shape
For the first time in over four years, Nevada’s state government will be helmed by competing partisan arms: Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo to the right, Democratic majorities in the Assembly and Senate to the left.
It’s something of a return to form for Carson City — a Republican governor has had to negotiate with Democratic Legislatures for what is now nine out of the past 15 years and a fifth biennial session in as much time.
Ahead of the start of the session Monday, the policy fights are already taking shape on all of the most important Nevada issues, from education, elections and state budgeting to health care and public safety.
Despite promising an investment in Education Savings Accounts on the campaign trail, Lombardo is not seeking to fund the voucher-style school choice program this session. Instead, he’s looking to expand the state’s Opportunity Scholarships, a tax credit-funded scholarship program designed to allow students to attend private K-12 institutions.
But even if Lombardo gets his wish — a record $50 million for Opportunity Scholarships — that would be a mere drop of school choice in the vast ocean of state K-12 education funding, which is set to increase to $5 billion over the next two years.
Even if Democrats are not keen on the idea of more money for Opportunity Scholarships, Lombardo enters the session with a key bargaining chip in his pocket — the power of the veto. Though Democrats have a supermajority in the Assembly (28 Democrats to 14 Republicans), they fall one short in the Senate (13 Democrats to 8 Republicans), meaning they’d need to rely on at least one Republican defector to override a gubernatorial veto.
Still, with majorities in both chambers, Democrats hold the power of the purse. They’ll have the ability to approve key budget bills. Already, Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) has pushed back on Lombardo’s proposal to put a record $2.2 billion state funds into savings.
Aside from the budget, those majorities also mean Lombardo will need Democrats on board for any policy goals he hopes to achieve through legislation. For example, Democratic leaders have shut down Lombardo’s hopes of enacting major election reforms, including an end to universal mail-in voting approved by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2021.
But don’t expect the session to be defined solely by partisan friction. Both sides have expressed support for record-setting investments in education, as well as raises for state employees and increased funding for mental health services.
Lombardo also has made clear his desire to be bipartisan. He hired Ben Kieckhefer, a former Republican state senator known for working across the aisle, as his chief of staff.
Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 Legislature. Sign up for the newsletter here.