Behind the Bar: Cannizzaro on opening the building, Question 1 redux, another effort to limit emergency governor powers, Senate GOP education plan
Behind the Bar is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2021 Legislature.
In this edition: Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro on when the building will open and the back half of the session. Plus, Assemblywoman Annie Black takes the campaign to open the building to mayors, more details on the push to revive 2020’s Question 1, a breakdown of the Senate Republican education-focused bills, and Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus on her bill limiting gubernatorial powers.
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Thursday will mark the halfway point (60th day) of the 81st regular legislative session.
It’s usually around this time that the anemic pace of the session finally picks up. Nowhere is this more apparent in both houses holding Friday floor sessions and even some committees meeting on Friday afternoon (a rarity for the first month or two of the session).
To get a sense of what to expect over the next 60 days, I sat down with Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro on Friday. Here are a few highlights from that conversation:
Opening the building: Cannizzaro said there’s been “some very good progress” made on the goal of vaccinating staff ahead of opening the Legislative Building to lobbyists and the public. Democratic legislative leaders said several weeks ago that the tentative goal was a mid-April opening — Cannizzaro said on Friday that an opening date was looking likely for early April, but didn’t give an exact date.
She said many of the logistics of opening the building were still being worked on, but could include a registration system for individuals to come into the building and potentially limiting the number of people inside the building, while still following all other COVID-19 safety guidelines.
“The last thing we want is to have a superspreader event, or some kind of outbreak in the building,” she said.
She also said it was likely that committee meetings would return to being in-person (rather than over videoconferencing) — something she said would make a “huge difference in our ability to ask questions and to be able to talk with one another.”
Deadline days: Both the Senate and Assembly suspended bill introduction deadlines over the last two weeks, with legislative leaders saying it was a necessary step to allow legal drafters enough time to turn pending bill draft requests into actual bills.
Cannizzaro said she didn’t anticipate delaying or suspending any additional deadlines for first committee passage (April 9) or first house passage (April 20), saying that any additional delays would probably make it too difficult to finish the session on time and complete the budget process.
“Extending them out makes it very difficult for us to finish our work in 120 days, so we're going to do our best to stay on track and I'm very hopeful we're going to do that,” she said.
Taxes: Cannizzaro refused to close the door on any of the three proposed constitutional amendments changing the mining tax rate that were passed during the 2020 special session. She said that a hearing on any of the three would likely come later in the session, but also refused to rule out the possibility that lawmakers could pass two or more of the resolutions to head to the 2022 ballot.
“I think we owe it to the people of Nevada to continue to have those conversations so all three resolutions are very much still here, still have been introduced, still are assigned to committees, and we're trying to do our best to make sure that we can vet those, and also look at any other solutions that may come up to ensure that we're properly funding things here in the state,” she said.
Cannizzaro also said she hasn’t consulted with Legislative Counsel Bureau attorneys on whether or not the Clark County Education Association can withdraw its initiatives raising the sales and gaming tax rates, but that the “understanding is that they’re going to the ballot.”
Federal aid: Lawmakers are still waiting for U.S. Treasury guidance as to how they can use the state and local aid dollars coming into the state from the recently passed federal $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. Nevada is in line to receive roughly $4 billion from the legislation, but state lawmakers face a time crunch — budget closings start this week, and guidance on how to use the incoming federal dollars could come late in the session.
Cannizzaro said the likely priority was to immediately restore any of the cuts made during the 2020 special session, but that a special session might be necessary depending on when Treasury guidance is issued to the state.
“I think it's always a possibility because some of this does depend on timing,” she said. “So it's always a possibility.”
— Riley Snyder
Titus backs bill to limit governor’s power, give counties more say in public health emergencies
It’s been more than a year since Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a formal state of emergency declaration over the COVID-19 pandemic in Nevada.
But the state’s ongoing state of emergency and related COVID-19 safety protocols have irked legislative Republicans, many who say putting limits on gubernatorial power during emergencies is a top priority in the 2021 session.
The latest of those proposals is AB373 — a bill by Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus that would set a 15-day expiration limit on any governor-declared state of emergency, requiring explicit legislative approval to continue.
It would also authorize county commissions to “evaluate” emergency orders made by the governor related to public health, and to issue orders that are less stringent than those put forward by the governor. Several rural counties in late January passed resolutions opting to not follow state COVID guidelines.
Titus — who is a licensed physician and Lyon County public health officer — said she was “absolutely” supportive of the governor’s ability to declare an emergency in cases of natural disaster, and initial decision to shut down the state last March. But she said lawmakers should have had more of a say over the past year in Sisolak’s policy responses to the pandemic.
“I would submit to you that when you're operating on emergency conditions, it doesn't matter who's in power, it all matters what the process is,” she said. “And that's one of the things that I'm really pushing, is that it doesn't matter who the governor is or what party they belong to. I can tell you that the leadership in this building all support the governor, but they had all hoped that they would have been involved more.”
Even though Nevada has a part-time Legislature, Titus said she believed that lawmakers in a true emergency could “rally the troops pretty darn quick.” Asked when she thought the current “state of emergency” had ended, she said that it should have at least been re-assessed within 15 days after the initial declaration in March 2020 after officials had learned more about the virus itself.
“They've done good studies on kids exposed to germs,” she said. “They're actually healthier, right? In the long run, they build up their immunities, and so at some point, we need to build up some immunity to this stuff.”
— Riley Snyder
In SJR7, a second bite at the apple in bid to pull regents from the Constitution
Less than 5 months after Question 1 — a proposed amendment that would have removed the Board of Regents from the Nevada Constitution — failed at the ballot box, legislators have resurrected the idea once more with the introduction of SJR7.
Identical to the 2017 measure that spawned Question 1, this new resolution — sponsored by Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) — would seek to remove the Board of Regents, which governs higher education in Nevada, out of the Constitution in a bid to expand legislative accountability mechanisms over the board.
Lawmakers have argued since the introduction of the original measure, AJR5, four years ago that such a change is necessary, in part because regents and system administrators have historically used their enshrinement in the Constitution as a legal shield for bad behavior.
But critics of Question 1 — especially those on the Board of Regents — have argued that lawmakers already maintain accountability through the use of their budgeting authority, and that the measure may open the door to much broader changes, including the appointment, rather than election, of regents.
Roberts told The Nevada Independent this month that he “felt it was important to give it another shot,” pointing to the narrowness of the loss in November — Question 1 failed by just 0.3 percentage points or about 3,800 votes — and a strong showing of support from Clark County voters.
“I just think that people threw it out there, and folks didn’t quite understand exactly what it was doing,” Roberts said. “I think people believed that you were taking away the regents from the process, which you really weren’t, you’re just removing them from the Constitution.”
Just after Question 1’s defeat, proponents of the measure blamed the loss largely on the complexity of the subject involved and the relative obscurity of the regents among elected bodies in Nevada, all coupled with unusually limited advertising budgets that had been stymied by the pandemic.
Former Democratic Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, who helped author the original 2017 measure, said at the time that given more money for educational advertising, Question 1 could have just as easily been approved by voters.
But critics of Question 1 have otherwise remained skeptical of the new push. That includes Regent Jason Geddes, who said that, though it remains within the Legislature’s purview to pursue a bill like SJR7, it still comes “too soon” after defeat at the hands of Nevada voters.
“We just had a vote and the voters said no,” Geddes said.
If passed by lawmakers this session, SJR7 would represent only the first step in the years-long amendment process. It would still need to be approved by legislators again in 2023 and by voters in 2024 before taking effect.
— Jacob Solis & Michelle Rindels
Outrage over police reform bill presentation
Republican lawmakers and law enforcement representatives expressed outrage over data presented in support of a Democratic police reform bill (SB212) — citing concerns during a Thursday hearing that the data was flawed and painted Nevada police in a negative light.
The main point of contention came from a statistic in the bill presentation that lists Reno, out of the 100 largest city police departments in the country, as the city with the highest rate of police killings of black men since 2013 — although Reno is one of the smallest cities in the top 100. Further data indicates that Reno police have killed three Black men in the past eight years, all of whom were gunshot victims.
That data came from Mapping Police Violence, an organization headed by activists DeRay McKesson and Samuel Sinyangwe with the stated goal of providing greater transparency and accountability to end police violence.
“This was an incredibly one-sided, loaded presentation,” Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said during the hearing. “And the fact that our law enforcement community is going to be limited to two minutes to rebut some of these charges, I think is outrageous.”
Eric Spratley, executive director of the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association, said the data presented uses a flawed methodology because it also includes killings by off-duty officers, while others in the meeting provided data that framed police violence through a different lens.
“Since 2016, we have had one officer-involved shooting, involving the Reno Police Department, in which a Black male has been killed,” said Calli Wilsey, a senior management analyst for the city of Reno. “The data presented today is a misleading representation of what is actually happening in our community.”
Wilsey only noted officer-involved shootings, which differs from the data from Mapping Police Violence that includes deaths “as a result of being shot, beaten, restrained, intentionally hit by a police vehicle, pepper sprayed, tasered, or otherwise harmed by police officers.”
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), said that the reform measures she is proposing — including limits on use of force and a requirement to use de-escalation techniques when safe — are not intended to be accusatory, but are about codifying best police practices into statute.
And though people on all sides of the bill said that the measure still needs more work, several law enforcement agencies, including Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, testified in support, noting that they already practice many of the policies in the bill, such as de-escalation tactics. Multiple police unions testified in opposition to the bill, including the Las Vegas and Reno Police Protective Associations.
— Sean Golonka
Black asks mayors for support in push to open legislative building
Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) is rallying local elected officials to push for a hearing on a resolution to terminate Gov. Steve Sisolak’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, according to an email and proposed letter obtained by The Nevada Independent.
In an email to local elected officials last week, Black circulated a proposed sign-on letter addressed to Assemblywoman Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections. The letter asks Miller to hold a hearing on ACR2.
“While our signatures should not be construed as either favoring or opposing the action called for in the bill, we believe it proper for the Legislature to at least hold a discussion and debate on this important issue,” the proposed letter said.
“The people of Nevada we represent, whose lives and livelihoods have been harmed by the imposition of Gov. Sisolak’s emergency directives, deserve to have their voices heard. A public hearing on ACR2 will give them that opportunity.”
Miller said the committee is waiting for bill introductions to see what they can schedule in committee.
— Daniel Rothberg
Republican lawmakers introduce plan to complement Democratic education bill
Sens. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) and Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) are sponsoring four education-related bills — which they refer to collectively as the “Nevada Education Recovery Plan” — to help Nevada students recover from any learning loss experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, Gansert presented the first bill in the plan, SB272, which would establish a corps of tutors to provide greater access to tutoring for public school students across the state. The corps would be composed of retired teachers, currently licensed teachers and college students with at least 30 credit hours and a special license to teach.
“We don't have enough teachers, we have learning losses, we were making some gains, but we're no longer making those gains. So what can we do about that?” Gansert said during the hearing. “So we came up with the Nevada Educator Corps.”
Gansert also said that her and Kieckhefer’s proposals would complement a bill (SB173) from Democratic lawmakers dubbed the “Back on Track Act” — a measure that would allocate federal funds towards creating learning loss prevention plans and setting up summer school programs.
The other bills in the plan include:
SB273 - A bill from Gansert aimed at protecting literacy programs in elementary schools by keeping Read by Grade 3 money in a separate account and requiring specific accountability for it. In 2019, Nevada fourth graders were approaching the national average for reading proficiency, and during the hearing, Gansert emphasized the importance of continuing to improve learning outcomes among Nevada students.
SB312 - This Kieckhefer bill would allocate federal COVID-19 relief funds towards the enrollment of at least 500 children in prekindergarten education programs in the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years.
SB316 - Kieckhefer’s second bill in the plan would address the other end of the education spectrum by allocating federal relief funds towards a pilot program for high school seniors who were unable to graduate in four years and need an additional year of school to complete their graduation requirements.
— Sean Golonka
Upcoming Bills of Note:
Here’s what to watch this week in the Legislature:
Monday, 8 a.m.: The Assembly Judiciary Committee will review AB400, a bill that removes “per se” limits on marijuana intoxication from state law. Critics say the state’s current way of determining a marijuana DUI, based on levels of metabolites in the blood, could ensnare people who consumed days ago but are no longer high.
Monday, 1 p.m. : The Senate Judiciary Committee is discussing SB258, a bill from Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) that requires the Nevada Department of Corrections adopt standards for housing, security, medical and mental health care for transgender and non-binary inmates, and provide cultural competency training for correctional staff.
Monday, 3:30 p.m.: The Senate Growth and Infrastructure Committee will vet SB387, a bill from Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) that requires the Public Utilities Commission to set rate caps on phone call services provided within jails and prisons.
Monday, 6 p.m.: Members of the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee have scheduled a hearing on AB221, a bill that would create a “right to repair” for digital equipment — such as a cell phone, tablet, computer, camera or gaming device — under $5,000. In general, it’d require the manufacturer of such a device to make documentation, part or tool needed to repair an electronic device available to the device owner or an independent repair provider.
Tuesday, 8 a.m.: Food delivery services such as DoorDash, Uber Eats or GrubHub would have to be more transparent on pricing and face limits on surcharges during the COVID-19 pandemic under SB320, a bill by Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) up for a hearing in the Senate Commerce and Labor committee. It’d also require those providers enter into written agreements with food establishments before agreeing to deliver their food.
Tuesday, 1 p.m.: Members of the Assembly Education Committee will hear AB255, which would transition elected school boards in Clark and Washoe counties to a partially appointed, partially elected system.
Wednesday, 1 p.m.: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear details of SB236, a bill that would require law enforcement agencies in the state establish warning systems to identify officers that display “bias indicators,” would mandate most police officers to at least have at least an associate’s agree or two years of military service and would put limits on use of qualified immunity (a legal principle that shields police from civil lawsuits unless in cases where they violate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right.)
Thursday, 3 p.m.: Members of Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee plan to hold a hearing on AB321, the bill from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson that would make the expanded mail ballot system used for the 2020 election a permanent feature.
What we’re reading
The latest in Megan Messerly’s “What Happened Here” series explores tensions over what level of government should take responsibility for the pandemic response.
The land where the University of Nevada, Reno now sits was part of the area that Washoe and Paiute peoples lived before white settlers arrived in Nevada. Now, Nevada lawmakers want to waive tuition charges for citizens of the state’s 27 tribes in an act Native activists say is a step toward righting a historic wrong, Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez reports.
Humberto Sanchez’s D.C. Download is always a must-read and looks at gun control, voting rights and immigration reform work in Washington.
About 12 percent of Nevada inmates are kept in solitary confinement at any one time. Lawmakers want to put more limits on the practice and are demanding more transparency, Michelle Rindels reports.
The pandemic drove a roughly 10 percent increase in the number of Nevada households homeschooling their children, Jackie Valley reports.
This sums up the response from landlords opposing Sen. Julia Ratti’s bill giving more rights to tenants, Michelle Rindels reports.
Protesters are out in front of the legislative building on weekends again. The group this weekend was there to oppose a “ghost gun” bill and the COVID vaccine, as well as cheer on Trump for 2024. Story and photos by the Sun’s Ricardo Torres-Cortez.
More on the bill to require single-stall bathrooms be gender neutral (Las Vegas Review Journal).
A touching piece on just how important multi-parent adoption can be (Las Vegas Sun).
The couple who owned the Nevada Appeal in the mid-1800s had a lengthy, witty courtship via letters before marrying and settling in Carson City. UNR needs volunteers to transcribe the handwritten dossier. Via Jessica Garcia.
World War Weed II? (Nevada Current)
Is this the year Nevada abolishes the death penalty? (Nevada Current)
In a totally “coincidental” step, the Clark County district attorney’s office is now seeking the death penalty against Zane Floyd, who was convicted of killing four people inside a Las Vegas grocery store 22 years ago. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Start closing budgets: 1 (Tuesday, March 30, 2021)
First Committee Passage: 11 (Friday, April 9, 2021)
Days Until Sine Die: 63 (May 31, 2021)