Democrats move to consolidate school safety legislation, kill Lombardo bill
Senate Democrats have signaled they will move this week to consolidate two similar bills aiming to overhaul the state’s K-12 school discipline laws — setting up a potential showdown with Gov. Joe Lombardo’s office over yet another of his top legislative priorities.
The former, sponsored by Assemblywoman Angie Taylor (D-Reno), would peel back key parts of the state’s 2019 restorative justice law and expand the ability of schools to suspend or expel students. The latter, which was the only bill presented personally by Lombardo this session, includes additional proposals governing exactly how and under what conditions students can be suspended or expelled, as well as new data reporting requirements for the Department of Education.
Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas), chair of the Senate Education Committee, told The Nevada Independent on Tuesday that her committee would not have time to hear both bills ahead of a key bill deadline on Friday. Though proposals included in Lombardo’s bill could still be added to Taylor’s bill, the announcement functionally guarantees the death of Lombardo’s policy proposals if no amendments are made.
“We've offered [Lombardo] the opportunity to amend into [Taylor’s] bill,” Lange said. “And I communicated with them this morning, saying if you have any amendments, make sure you get them to me because we're going to move forward on Wednesday.”
It was not immediately clear if those amendments would appear before the bill was set for a hearing on Wednesday afternoon. As of Tuesday morning, Lange told The Nevada Independent that she had yet to hear back from the governor’s office.
A spokesperson for Taylor’s office also told The Nevada Independent that she remained open to discussing a potential amendment to incorporate elements of Lombardo’s bill, but that his office had yet to reach out to her to begin those discussions.
Asked Tuesday afternoon if the governor’s office was open to such an amendment or if the matter was non-negotiable, Lombardo Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer said in a statement: “We’ll see what happens.”
Both bills have sought to undo large swaths of the state’s effort to create a “restorative justice” school discipline regime in 2019 through AB168, a bill with bipartisan support that came as lawmakers sought to dismantle the “school to prison pipeline” predominantly affecting students of color.
But in the years since, the measure has come under withering scrutiny from teachers, school administrators, parents, students and even major education unions, many of whom argue that the law made schools less safe, in large part by limiting the ability of teachers to remove disruptive, sometimes violent students from class, and of administrators to punish repeat offenders with suspensions or expulsions.
Those problems, proponents argue, then compounded under the school closures of the early pandemic, with violence spiking after students returned to in-person learning. All the while, the political tide has since shifted in the wake of high-profile incidents of school violence, especially in the Clark County School District.
On the campaign trail, Lombardo made violence in schools a stump speech focal point, calling AB168 “a disaster” that “never should have been passed.” In the midst of the session, the Lombardo-linked Better Nevada PAC has frequently invoked AB330 as a mark against Democrats, criticizing legislative leaders on Twitter for sitting on the bill.
But a handful of legislative Democrats have raised concerns over the particulars of the new school discipline efforts, especially added language that could potentially permanently expel students as young as 6 years old. Current law limits removal to students 11 years or older, barring certain circumstances, such as the possession of a firearm.
Though Taylor told The Nevada Independent last month that she remained open to an amendment on the issue, both AB285 and AB330 cleared initial votes in the Assembly by a 38-4 margin, with all four “no” votes coming from Democrats.
In a floor statement ahead of the vote, Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas) explicitly criticized the age threshold on expulsions, saying in part, “We have no plan, no solid plan, for what we will do with those children when they are expelled from school.”
If passed by the Senate Education Committee this week, Taylor’s bill will still need to clear a vote from the full Senate next week in order to advance to the governor’s desk.
Lombardo’s four other policy bills have also stalled in the Democratic-led Legislature. That includes one measure, SB405, which includes a host of election law changes that has been deemed dead-on-arrival by legislative leaders.
Another two major omnibus bills, AB400, addressing over a dozen education policies, including expanding school choice, and SB431, a major state government overhaul, have yet to be voted upon after receiving hearings late last month. The last, SB412, a criminal justice overhaul bill, has yet to receive an initial committee hearing.
Update: 5/16/23 at 3:55 p.m. — This story was updated to include additional comment from a spokesperson for Assemblywoman Angie Taylor.
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