Bills on drug-testing welfare applicants, Skype from prison and mobile barbers introduced
Monday marks an important deadline for Nevada lawmakers — it’s the last day that individual lawmakers can introduce bills.
While it’s fair to expect a glut of more than a hundred bills to be introduced on Monday, legislators have been busy in the run-up to the deadline, introducing a large number of bills over the last few days.
Here are a few measures lawmakers introduced:
Overhauling the Public Employees Retirement System
Republicans are trying once again to overhaul the Public Employees Retirement System, turning it from a “defined benefit” plan in which retirees are guaranteed a specific payout when they retire, to a hybrid plan that includes a “defined contribution” element. That’s similar to a 401(k) plan in the private sector, in which employees know how much they’re contributing to their plan but the payout depends on how well investments perform. Republican Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson backs the bill, SB297. A similar bill last session died even though pro-PERS reform Republicans controlled the Legislature, and Democratic Senate leader Aaron Ford has said he has no interest in taking up the concept this time around. For more background on the PERS debate, see The Nevada Independent’s explainer.
Drug-testing welfare applicants
Applicants for welfare, food stamps and other public assistance would have to take a drug test under a bill proposed by Republican Sen. Michael Roberson. SB298 requires applicants to first take a saliva drug test, and if that turns up positive, they can take a urine drug test to verify the result. People who test positive must participate in a drug treatment program as a condition of receiving benefits. At least 15 other states have passed legislation requiring drug screening for applicants, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Abolishing Las Vegas-area taxi agency
Republican Sen. Scott Hammond proposes abolishing the Nevada Taxicab Authority, which oversees cabs in the Las Vegas area, and folding it into the Nevada Transportation Authority that does the same job for cabs in other parts of the state. The Taxicab Authority has had a tumultuous history, including a state audit in 2016 that recommended the agency be dissolved. Among other things, auditors criticized the regulatory body for allowing a $3 per transaction credit card fee that it said was unnecessarily high and gouged customers. The bill is SB299.
Video visitation from prison
Prisoners would be able to videoconference or use other electronics to communicate their loved ones from behind bars under a new bill, SB306. The issue came up in an earlier budget hearing, when prisons officials indicated that inmates housed at a private prison out of state could Skype their relatives. Democratic lawmakers said they hoped to bring that to Nevada’s state prisons.
Concealed carry free-for-all
While some lawmakers want to allow concealed weapons on college campuses, Republican Sen. Don Gustavson wants to do away with all restrictions on surreptitiously carrying a gun. The conservative lawmaker is backing SB307, which repeals any requirements to have a permit for concealed carry. Nearly a dozen other states allow for some form so-called “constitutional carry,” meaning no permit is required to carry a firearm.
Deemphasizing student performance in teacher evaluations
After teachers have finally begun to undergo performance evaluations in part based on how well their students do, Democratic lawmakers want to roll back some of the requirements.
AB320, which is sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, would remove the requirement that teacher evaluations contain at least 40 percent of pupil achievement data, and instead provide that the data may make up to 20 percent of an evaluation. It would also allow teachers graded as “effective” a three-year period before being subject to another performance evaluation, and “highly effective” evaluations would allow for a five-year period.
Existing law is set to phase in the 40 percent achievement data by the 2018-19 school year, with half of the data district-wide and the other half dependent on statewide assessments. Frierson’s bill would remove the statewide portion and have the data only be from the relevant school or school district.
Jump start for dispensaries selling recreational pot
Medical marijuana dispensaries that are up and running could get a head start selling recreational pot under a bill proposed by Democratic Sen. Tick Segerblom. Nevada voters legalized the use of recreational marijuana in November, but residents can’t buy the substance from storefronts until the Department of Taxation adopts regulations for recreational sales — a process that must happen by 2018. The bill, SB302, would allow the existing, heavily regulated dispensaries to start selling as soon as it’s signed into law.
More recycling and solving a Vegas trash dispute
Nevada would set its recycling ambitions higher under SB315, which is sponsored by independent Sen. Patty Farley. The state tries to divert 25 percent of its solid waste away from landfills and to recycling centers, but the bill would raise that goal to 35 percent and require counties to report on their efforts to implement single-stream recycling that eliminates the need for consumers to sort glass and plastic before putting the bins out on the curb.
Nevada has long had a lackluster recycling rate compared to other states like California, which set a goal of recycling 75 percent of its waste by 2020. Part of the reason is that the company with a monopoly on residential trash service in Las Vegas — Republic Services — also owns the nation’s largest landfill and has little financial incentive to recycle more.
Farley’s bill also seeks to address other percolating issues with Republic Services, including complaints that the company is squeezing out potential competitors. Defenders of Republic Services say the company has provided cheap, reliable garbage service as a monopoly and they don’t want to disrupt that arrangement.
Haircuts on wheels
One Nevada lawmaker wants to cut down on the amount of time people spend looking at old copies of People magazine and staring at shampoo bottles waiting to get their hair cut. AB315, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, would create a two-year pilot program allowing for the licensure and operation of barbers to operate out of vehicles. Only already-licensed barbers would be eligible for the program, and the bill is set to expire in 2019. Nevada wouldn’t be breaking new ground, as Texas has allowed mobile barbers to operate in the state since 2008.