Gov. Steve Sisolak made Nevada one of the first states to enter a state of partial lockdown last Tuesday as an emergency step meant to stem the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, enforcing a closure of the state’s casinos and urging other nonessential businesses to close their doors for 30 days.
But in the week that’s followed, public confusion has mounted as many businesses, small and large, have defied the governor’s orders and kept their doors open.
Sisolak doubled down on his original directive Friday, issuing an order — not a request — that nonessential businesses shut down and threatening civil penalties, fines or license revocations for businesses that tried to stay open.
But enforcement of those closures would be left to local governments, and in the days since, some questions have remained as some businesses classified as nonessential continued to stay open through the weekend.
Some jurisdictions, such as Clark County, met immediately to adopt ordinances that would allow punitive actions against ‘nonessential’ businesses defying the shutdown order, while others — namely the city of Las Vegas — initially chafed against the order before changing track and promising to enforce the shutdown mandate.
Statewide, many law enforcement agencies and local governments said that most businesses are already following the mandate, and said they viewed their role in enforcing the order as more educational than punitive.
On Monday evening, Las Vegas police announced they had over the weekend issued several dozen warning letters and seven forced shutdowns of businesses that would not voluntarily close under the mandate.
Below is a breakdown of how Nevada jurisdictions have outlined individual enforcement mechanisms, and when those mechanisms have been put in place:
CLARK COUNTY: Clark County Commissioners passed an emergency ordinance last Friday allowing the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the county’s Business Licensing department to enforce business closures.
Specifically, the county may temporarily suspend or revoke business licenses, issue fines of up to $1,000 per violation or hand out a criminal misdemeanor to violators.
Speaking after the ordinance’s passage, Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick said residents who want to report any businesses they think are nonessential should call the business licensing department, an individual commissioner, or Metro’s non-emergency 3-1-1 line.
LAS VEGAS: The City of Las Vegas became an early thorn in the side of the governor’s original emergency directive, with City Attorney Brad Jerbic openly criticizing the order and saying in a council meeting last week that “panic, fear, government shutdowns are based on a bet that if we kill our economy, we will kill the virus.”
His comments came after days of criticism from some of the city’s elected officials, including Mayor Carolyn Goodman, that the governor’s orders had come at the detriment of the local economy.
Jerbic would eventually have a change of heart; Attorney General Aaron Ford announced via Twitter on Saturday that he and Jerbic “reached a conclusion based on the language of the law” that would allow the order’s enforcement.
As of Monday, Metro Police will remain responsible for the direct enforcement of the measure, with the city attorney’s office remaining responsible for civil or criminal prosecutions under the state’s existing public nuisance laws.
Any criminal charge would be classified as a misdemeanor, while civil prosecution would involve city lawyers seeking a temporary restraining order that would force the business to close.
A city spokesperson told The Nevada Independent that officials will also take steps to “ease the burdens” of such business closures. Those steps include a 60-day grace period for business license renewals with due dates at the start of March or April, options to close privileged licenses with no cost to reinstate them, and reduced fees for liquor and gaming licenses throughout the temporary closures.
HENDERSON: City officials in Henderson finalized enforcement details Monday morning, with plans on enforcing the governor’s order via the city’s code enforcement and business license division rolling out later that day.
A city spokesperson told The Nevada Independent that Henderson would implement a three-strike policy that would warn a business for first offense, issue a stop-work order and a $500 fine per violation on a second offense, and finally enforce a closure and business license suspension on a third and final offense, with the possibility for business owners to be prosecuted under existing state law.
The city also launched a website that lists a number of essential services and provides forms for the public to report possible violations and for business owners to inquire if they are essential or not.
NORTH LAS VEGAS: Officials in North Las Vegas began notifying nonessential businesses through phone calls this weekend, with business licensing employees making follow-up trips Monday for those businesses which could not be reached over the phone.
A city spokesperson said North Las Vegas wanted to work with businesses to ensure compliance, but said the city maintained the tools needed to enforce Sisolak’s directive. That includes subjecting violators to up to $1,000 in fines per day, a written notice of criminal prosecution after two citations, and criminal arrest or citation “upon the exhaustion” of the first two penalties.
BOULDER CITY: City Manager Al Noyola said in a press release Friday that the city had a “moral obligation” to follow the governor’s order and would levy civil penalties, including fines or a revocation of licenses, in order to do so.
Even so, a spokesperson told The Nevada Independent that a weekend sweep by Boulder City police yielded no violations, and so far no citations have been issued.
RENO: City officials here were the first in the state to take direct action to limit social interaction to mitigate spread of the disease, with Mayor Hillary Schieve announcing, clarifying, withdrawing and ultimately following the state’s lead to shut down all nonessential businesses.
The city’s business license and code enforcement agency published a memorandum Friday outlining the emergency directive and stating that city staff will be “working every day to ensure compliance with the Governor’s ordered businesses closures.”
The memorandum also stated that city officials “have no desire to take enforcement action” but have the authority to enforce the shutdown through citations up to $1,000 per day, misdemeanor citations or summary suspension or revocation of a business license. Enforcement actions can be taken against either business owners or employees in control of a business.
WASHOE COUNTY: Washoe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bob Harmon said the office would largely follow the information published in a joint release between the sheriff’s office, Reno Police Department and Sparks Police Department on Saturday detailing future enforcement efforts.
“However, the initial intent is for law enforcement officers to issue warnings to businesses to help spread awareness about the need for this action, what businesses are impacted, and what the potential penalties are,” the joint press release stated.
Harmon said he hadn’t heard about any called-in complaints about a nonessential business in the county remaining open as of Monday, but said deputies would first give a warning and explain the necessity of shutting down before taking additional enforcement action. He said the office was more focused on beefing up patrols and ensuring the safety of businesses that have already closed down to comply with the order.
CARSON CITY: Mayor Bob Crowell said Friday that city officials plan to “work closely with businesses and residents in ensuring compliance with the Governor’s directive.”
A press release by the county on Friday stated that Sheriff Ken Furlong and Fire Chief Sean Slamon believe most city businesses are already in compliance and “expected their roles to be ‘educational’ with respect to the Governor’s order.”
ELKO COUNTY: County Sheriff Aitor Narvaiza said in a Facebook post on Friday that he planned to enforce the shutdown order and had directed sheriff’s office deputies to “check businesses to confirm the closures (enacted) by the emergency declaration.”
“I continue to work closely with the coalition of partners, including the Nevada Health District. Elko County and the state of Nevada for a cohesive community response to protect the health and well-being of our citizens of Elko County, Nevada,” he wrote.
NYE COUNTY: County officials issued a press release on Monday saying that they fully intended to comply with the shutdown order.
“The governor has made it clear that you have a duty imposed by law under his emergency declaration,” the release states. “Nye County Deputies will be taking enforcement action in accordance with his emergency declaration made on March 20th. This enforcement action is ongoing until further notice.”