The Indy Examines: Democrats' legislative blueprint
Empowered after winning just about every competitive race on the ballot in 2016, legislative Democrats entered Carson City bright-eyed and hopeful in February with a laundry list of progressive goals and proposals laid out in the “Nevada Blueprint” policy wish-list.
Six months later, they’ll head back home with a significant chunk of the agenda approved by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, but with a large number of high-profile proposals either vetoed or victims of legislative sausage-making.
Of the more than 160 identified “Blueprint” bills and legislation provided to The Nevada Independent in April, Democratic legislators processed and sent the governor more than 85 bills signed into law by Sandoval through Thursday, with another 20 still on his desk awaiting a signature or veto. Fourteen of their priority bills were vetoed by the governor, with another 30 or so failing to even make it out of both legislative bodies and onto Sandoval’s desk for a signature or veto.
Despite controlling committees and the pace of the Legislature, Democrats killed many of their own bills for a number of reasons ranging from unexpected or untenable costs to the state to the knowledge that the Republican governor would veto the more progressive measures.
With a 27-15 majority in the Assembly and a narrower 12-9 advantage in the Senate thanks to Independent Sen. Patricia Farley, Democrats were able to get a number of major policy goals either signed or passed through the Legislature, including spurring renewable energy generation standards, updating and revising many criminal justice policies and laws and approving tens of millions of dollars in funding for the soon-to-be opened UNLV medical school.
But Democrats will also leave Carson City without enacting or getting Sandoval to sign on to several major progressive policy goals, including a minimum wage increase, requiring large businesses to offer paid sick time off, banning fracking or expanding voting and election access.
Outside of funding for the controversial quasi-voucher Education Savings Account program, legislators approved or funded nearly everything Sandoval called for in his January State of the State address. The governor is given 10 days after receiving a bill to sign or veto it, or it automatically becomes law.
With the dust now settling, here’s a look at where the proposals identified by legislative Democrats ended up, and a line-by-line look at what parts of the “Blueprint” actually made it through the legislative process:
PASSED OR AWAITING SIGNATURE
BLUEPRINT: Provide an influx of badly needed funding to our schools through a tax on recreational marijuana sales and dedicate funds directly to public education.
Though a 10 percent excise tax on recreational marijuana was a goal shared by both Sandoval and Democrats, the legislative vehicle for the tax — SB487 — ended up being one of the last major bills to pass out of the Legislature.
Because the tax bill came after legislators approved the bulk of the state’s two-year budget, the bill was amended to move marijuana tax revenue into the state’s “rainy day” reserve fund to avoid last-minute budgetary complications. Legislators said they still plan to use the projected $60 plus million in revenue for K-12 educational needs.
BLUEPRINT: Make financial literacy a curriculum requirement so students learn basic life skills like balancing a checkbook or establishing good credit.
Signed into law this week, Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse’s SB249 requires public high school students complete a course in financial literacy.
In addition to laying out course guidelines, the bill also allocates $2.5 million to school districts to implement the bill. If signed by Sandoval, it will require the state board of education to adopt standards for the future financial literacy classes by February 2018.
BLUEPRINT: Make Nevada a leader in the new energy economy by setting renewable energy standards that will encourage solar and other renewable technologies to grow.
Though Sandoval has expressed public skepticism over the measure, state lawmakers did approve a measure that would raise the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 40 percent by 2030.
AB206, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Chris Brooks, passed on a mostly party-line vote out of the Assembly and Senate and is awaiting either a signature or veto from Sandoval.
BLUEPRINT: Promote energy efficiency, energy storage standards, residential and community solar, and other programs that will both create new jobs and help Nevada transition to more clean energy consumption.
Legislators approved many bills dealing with renewable energy policy, including:
- SB392, paving the way and setting limits on community solar gardens. The bill is currently on Sandoval’s desk.
- SB145, which revised state renewable energy incentive programs to focus more on energy storage and electric vehicles. The bill was signed into law by Sandoval on May 31.
- SB150, which requires the state’s Public Utilities Commission to set energy efficiency goals for utilities. The bill is currently sitting on Sandoval’s desk.
BLUEPRINT: Make Nevada a leader in health care education by fully funding the UNLV medical school and expanding health sciences programs at community colleges.
It may not be “fully funded” given the medical school’s reported $100 million funding shortfall for a physical building and unknown construction costs, but legislators approved a bill that allocated $25 million for the school and the state received a $25 million check from an anonymous donor for that purpose.
In addition to the last-minute $50 million in funding for construction, the school will also receive more than $52 million in operating expenses over the approved two-year budget.
BLUEPRINT: Improve quality of life by improving the quality of health care for seniors, particularly cognitive and palliative care.
Also awaiting a signature is SB121, which directs the interim Legislative Commission to appoint a committee to conduct a study on the behavioral and cognitive needs of the elderly.
Both measures passed unanimously out of the Assembly and Senate.
BLUEPRINT: Give Nevada businesses the first crack at state contracts, so that our tax dollars are spent boosting Nevada businesses and Nevada workers first.
A measure that gives Nevada-based businesses a boost when bidding on state purchasing agreements passed in the waning days of the session, while a similar measure on public work bidding wasn’t able to pass.
AB280, which gives Nevada-based businesses a 5 percent preference on bids or proposals for state purchasing contracts, passed unanimously out of the Assembly and Senate and was transmitted to the governor last week.
SB317, which creates a similar incentive for state-based businesses on public work projects, passed out of the Senate 17-4 on May 31 and was heard in an Assembly committee a few days later, but was never brought to the floor for a vote.
BLUEPRINT: Help local business get off the ground by providing small business loans, reduced red tape and small business incubators to help people start and grow their businesses.
Ford’s SB126 passed with bipartisan support out of the Assembly and Senate and is currently awaiting either a signature or veto from the governor.
The bill appropriates $1 million to a newly-created “Small Business Enterprise Loan Account,” which will be aimed at assisting small businesses,and businesses owned by minorities, women and disabled people.
BLUEPRINT: Require health insurance companies to cover basic preventative care, such as cancer screenings, women’s health services, and screenings for autism in children.
Lawmakers made a big push to be a backstop if congressional representatives roll back the Affordable Care Act. Those efforts include Democratic Sen. Julia Ratti’s SB233, which requires Medicaid and certain insurance programs to cover women’s health screenings and vaccinations, as well as a 12-month supply of contraceptives.
The measure was signed by the governor.
A more ambitious effort to codify Obamacare into state law, AB408, has not yet been signed or vetoed. It would require insurers to cover their clients’ adult children up to age 26, and prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression.
BLUEPRINT: Require that men and women are paid equally for doing the same work and set a living wage so everyone has the opportunity to provide for their family.
Democrats took a stab at the gender pay gap with AB423, a bill sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Brittney Miller that requires the state collect data on gender equality in the workplace. It charges the Secretary of State with designing a survey, in consultation with the Nevada Commission for Women, and offer it to businesses when they renew their license.
The governor signed the bill into law on Thursday.
In their quest to create a “living wage,” Democrats have passed SB106, which raises the minimum wage by 75 cents each year until it reaches $12 an hour, or $11 if the employer offers health insurance. Sandoval vetoed the measure on Thursday.
As a backup, they passed SJR6 on party lines. If the proposed constitutional amendment passes the 2019 Legislature and then a statewide vote, it would make the minimum wage $9.40 in 2021, and raise it by $1.15 each year until it hits $14.
BLUEPRINT: Keep our public lands in public hands so that they remain open for hunting, fishing, hiking, and recreation.
On a pure party-line vote, Democrats officially rescinded a 2015 resolution passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature urging Congress to transfer federally-owned land to Nevada’s state government.
In a more symbolic gesture, Democrats approved two bills (SB413 and AB449) authorizing the governor to proclaim the last Saturday in September as “Public Lands Day” and waiving fees for use of state parks over that weekend. Sandoval signed both bills into law.
BLUEPRINT: Increase accountability and improve administration of state benefits for veterans so that those who served our country are treated with the respect they deserve.
Approved by Sandoval in late May, Democratic Senator Nicole Cannizzaro’s SB191 aims to establish a streamlined system to determine eligibility of benefits for any veteran with a service-connected disability. It requires a certificate from the federal Department of Veteran Affairs or Department of Defense indicated that the individual has a service-connected disability and the total percentage or compensation of that disability.
BLUEPRINT: Honor Nevada’s culture of freedom and personal liberty by protecting Nevadans of all backgrounds from discrimination, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or immigration status.
While this goal is somewhat broad in scope, Democratic Senator David Parks’ SB188 expands the state’s anti-discrimination laws to define and include “gender identity and expression” and “sexual orientation” and applies them to the entirety of state law.
Parks said the omnibus bill updates state law by “deleting archaic and overly narrow language and replacing it with broader, more culturally appropriate language.” It passed unanimously out of the Senate and on a 37-5 vote out of the Assembly.
BLUEPRINT: Make sure Nevada’s criminal justice system is fair to everyone.
Democrats embarked on an ambitious quest to reform the criminal justice system, introducing bills that did everything from improve conditions in prison to making it easier for ex-felons to get a job.
Sandoval has signed bills to restore voting and jury service rights to more ex-felons (AB181) and to “Ban the Box” for government jobs (AB384) -- barring employers from checking an applicant’s criminal history until a conditional job offer is made. There are exceptions for public safety and teaching jobs.
He also signed Assemblyman Will McCurdy’s bill AB327, which makes it easier for people to seal their criminal records.
There were also measures to vacate judgments related to someone’s past as a sex trafficking victim (AB243) and a resolution to study the possibility of treating minor traffic violations as civil infractions.
The governor has yet to act on AB259, a bill from McCurdy that would vacate certain marijuana convictions that would be legal under today’s recreational marijuana law. It passed on party lines.
BLUEPRINT: Fight to ensure that voting is free, fair, and accessible for all eligible voters in Nevada.
Sandoval signed a bill, SB447, that would allow people to make a one-time request for absentee ballots from then on out. That service is currently only available to people who have a physical disability.
He hasn’t yet acted on SB144, which allows more 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote and requires the Secretary of State’s website is fully accessible on a mobile device. The bill expands the rights of military personnel to request voting materials, although a section to allow “voting centers” where any eligible voter in the county could cast a ballot on election day was stricken on the final day of the session in hopes of avoiding a veto.
Lawmakers also approved a proposed constitutional amendment, SJR3, that proposes a “voter’s bill of rights.” If approved in the next legislative session and then in a statewide vote, the measure would enshrine a voter’s right to equal access to the elections system without discrimination.
Another bill that sought to create voting centers, AB272, was vetoed by the governor, who said the state offers liberal access to absentee ballots and two weeks of early voting so there was no compelling reason to change the status quo.
BLUEPRINT: Protect retirement savings and pensions and crack down on senior fraud and abuse to protect the savings for which our seniors have worked so hard.
Democratic Senate Leader Aaron Ford’s SB383, which removes exemptions for broker-dealers and financial advisors from the rules governing “financial planners,” is probably the closest bill approved by Sandoval to address this goal.
The law states that the newly expanded version of financial planners have a “fiduciary duty,” to their clients, meaning they are ethically bound to act in their client’s best interest and are required to disclose any profit or commission they might make if their client follows their advice.
Legislators also let Democratic Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams’ AB430 — creating an interim “task force” on retirement security — die without a floor vote.
BLUEPRINT: Provide parents with full public school choice through the creation of more magnet schools and career and technical academies, expanded open-enrollment and a well-regulated charter system.
Lawmakers unanimously approved AB49, which tightens up procedures within the State Public Charter School Authority, including rules for filing, investigating and resolving complaints.
BLUEPRINT: Prepare our students for high-tech jobs by providing well-funded Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education programs.
Lawmakers approved $25 million over the biennium for career and technical education grants through SB544. That money funds efforts to increase participation in Advanced Placement (AP) classes, promote dual enrollment in high school and college courses, and implement Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs.
They also promoted computer literacy with $20 million over the biennium for Nevada Ready 21 technology grants, which provide middle-schoolers a state-funded laptop and fund professional development so teachers can make the most of them.
Students who excel in STEM programs can also get special recognition. The governor has signed Sen. Joyce Woodhouse’s bill SB241, which allows for a state seal of STEM or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) for a student’s high school diploma.
BLUEPRINT: Repeal mandates and reduce high-stakes testing so that students and teachers can focus on learning, not just learning the test.
Lawmakers gave broad support to SB303, a bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse the Nevada Department of Education to audit the tests administered to public school students in grades 1 through 12. The department would also need to come up with a plan to improve and streamline its testing practices.
The bill comes after Congress passed the Every Student Succeed Act, which changes the testing standards the state must meet to receive federal funds and encourages states to streamline their testing regimens.
The bill applies $100,000 to carry out the audit and the plan. It awaits a final review from the governor.
BLUEPRINT: Cap costs at community colleges and fund new community college and vocational training programs, particularly those for emerging and new industry jobs.
While the bill didn’t “cap” costs per se, Sen. Mo Denis’ SB391 creates the Nevada Promise Scholarship that would make community college free for many students.
The scholarship provides whatever costs aren’t covered by Pell grants, the Millennium Scholarship or the Silver State Opportunity Grant. Lawmakers approved $3.5 million for the program.
Sandoval signed the measure on Thursday.
VETOED OR DIED IN THE PROCESS
BLUEPRINT: Enact a Back-to-School sales tax holiday so parents can shop for school supplies tax free.
It doesn’t appear that any such bill enacting a sales tax holiday was ever introduced, much less approved by lawmakers.
BLUEPRINT: Make it easier for Nevada families to save for college and create a refinancing program to help Nevadans get out of student loan debt faster.
Despite some buy-in from Republican state treasurer Dan Schwartz, Democratic Senate Leader Aaron Ford’s SB90 failed to gain much traction even in the Senate, dying without a floor vote.
The Democratic Senate leader’s plan to create a refinancing program for college loans funded by revenue bonds hit a snag with the state’s Department of Business and Industry raised questions about the legality and issued a $35 million price tag on the measure. Despite an amendment moving the program over to the treasurer’s office, the bill went nowhere after it was moved to a Senate budget committee in April.
BLUEPRINT: Expand “Teach Nevada” scholarships and loan incentives for students who study education and commit to teach in Nevada schools.
Legislators actually declined a request by Sandoval to expand the Teach Nevada program funding from $5 to $6 million over the two-year budget cycle, and instead modified law allowing the state board of education to retain 25 percent of the scholarship until applicants complete five years of employment at a Nevada school. Scholarship applicants would have a year after the five-year anniversary to claim the remainder.
The 25 percent clawback will allow funding of additional scholarships, according to state budget staff.
Another bill that would have established a grant program to help teachers pay off their loans — AB351 — was entombed in a budget committee and died without ever going to the Assembly or Senate floor for a vote.
BLUEPRINT: Provide apprenticeships for vocational training on publicly funded projects.
A measure addressing and setting requirements for apprenticeships on public works came in the form of SB357, which passed on party-line votes in the Assembly and Senate and was vetoed by Sandoval on Monday.
In his veto message, the governor called the provisions of the bill “restrictive and burdensome” and said the bill would unfairly reward contractors who hire the most apprentices.
BLUEPRINT: Offer tax credits for employers who provide or help their employees cover the cost of child care.
The bill would have allowed employers to accept up to $5,000 in payroll tax credits per employee for money paid toward providing child care assistance, with total tax credits capped at $10.5 million over the two-year budget. The bill was heard in the Senate Finance committee on May 29th and never advanced out.
BLUEPRINT: Implement an earned sick leave program so employees can take a day off when they or their immediate family members get sick.
Despite a last-minute amendment and some buy-in from a handful of casinos, Sandoval vetoed a measure that would have required a large chunk of Nevada businesses provide paid sick time off to their employees
Ford’s SB196 would have required employers with 25 or more workers offer paid sick leave to full-time employees after their first year of employment, with a handful of exceptions and limits on how much time off could be accrued. The bill passed out on party-lines in both the Assembly and Senate.
BLUEPRINT: Ensure Nevadans are paid what they’ve earned by toughening penalties for wage theft.
Another measure approved on party-lines and ultimately vetoed by Sandoval, Democratic Sen. Pat Spearman’s SB397 would have empowered the state’s Equal Rights Commission to investigate and issue escalating fines against businesses accused of pay discrimination based on gender.
In his veto message, Sandoval said the “purpose” of the bill was good but didn’t believe the commission was the proper venue to handle disputes over alleged pay discrimination, and said that “higher stakes litigation” belonged in the courts.
BLUEPRINT: Hold corporations accountable when they take tax incentives to make sure that the jobs we are promised actually come to Nevada.
Neither a bill or last-minute amendment designed to shine more light on how tax credits and abatements are used were able to make it to Sandoval’s desk before the end of the 120-day session.
Democratic Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams’ AB143, which would have created a legislative committee charged with reviewing tax credits and other economic incentives, failed to gain much traction after a budget committee heard the bill in May.
A similar concept was proposed in an Assembly amendment to SB442, which revised requirements for tax abatements and credits, but legislators receded from the proposed change on Sunday.
BLUEPRINT: Protect workers from exploitation by protecting their right to organize.
Despite dozens of bills and last-minute negotiations, no major changes to collective bargaining rights or processes occurred during the 2017 session.
Sandoval vetoed bills that would have modified the collective bargaining arbitration process, revised employee time off for union duties, reversed many of the 2015 changes made to collective bargaining law and reduce the ending fund balance local governments are allowed to exclude from negotiations.
One Democrat-sponsored bill that did change collective bargaining rights and was signed by the governor was SB493, which removed provisions prohibiting school administrators who make more than $120,000 a year from joining an employee union and instead prohibits any administrator above the rank of principal from joining a collective bargaining unit.
BLUEPRINT: Offer “fast-track” job training and retraining programs to prepare Nevadans for new jobs, particularly in the advanced manufacturing and technology fields.
SB441, which didn’t pass, would have allowed the Office of Economic Development to issue grants to entities that wanted to offer a workforce training program. It also would have applied $3 million toward the cause.
The measure would have also stated that Nevada wants to promote dual-credit enrollment and post-secondary career and technical education programs.