Despite veto threat, debate continues on bill expanding North Las Vegas council
North Las Vegas city officials and the city’s charter committee are not “on the same page,” city leaders said during a contentious meeting for a bill expanding the size of the city council and that Gov. Joe Lombardo has promised to veto.
Proponents of SB184, which makes several changes to the city’s charter and would expand the North Las Vegas City Council by two wards, urged lawmakers on the Assembly Government Affairs Committee Tuesday to base their decision on “adequate representation” and the city’s population growth following the 2020 census, which shows that North Las Vegas has increased its population by nearly 10,000 residents in a single year, making it one of the fastest-growing cities nationwide. The city population has grown to more than 274,000 as of 2022.
North Las Vegas has a 13 percent poverty rate, 1 percentage point less than the state's average and almost mirroring Reno's rate. In 2022, researchers identified noticeably high prison rates concentrated in North Las Vegas’ Windsor Park community, and income inequality has been on the rise over the last five years, according to the Southern Nevada Health District-backed research.
Proponents said that based on population growth and using free redistricting software, the city’s wards have a 7.5 percent deviation in representation. According to a 2021 Legislative Counsel Bureau report, congressional districts are required to have near-equal populations, but state legislative seats can have up to a 10 percent deviation before running afoul of constitutional redistricting guidelines.
SB184 supporters believe the city’s growth and deviation between wards calls for greater representation.
“Increasing the number of wards, from four to six, is a positive move that reflects the growth of North Las Vegas and will help ensure that all communities have a voice in city governance,” said Noé Orosco, census and redistricting program manager for the nonprofit Silver State Voices.
David Damore, interim executive director at Brookings Mountain West, shared concerns about redistricting mid-cycle, stating that Nevada was among the top two states that experienced a flood of new residents from other states during the COVID pandemic. He said the policy is concerning because it requires leaders to redistrict based on the 2020 census, which could be “unreliable."
“Redistricting to protect the voting interests of minority communities is challenging in Southern Nevada,” Damore said. “Based upon the dissimilarity index, Southern Nevada is one of the most racially and ethnically integrated metropolitan regions in the country.”
North Las Vegas officials estimated that adding two wards would cost $1.5 million in the first year to implement changes, including the cost to pay for additional council members, their aides and office supplies. In mid-April, Lombardo’s administration said the governor would not sign legislation amending a city charter that has not been processed through the charter committee — a group that recommends changes to a city’s founding document.
Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the committee where the bill was heard, said despite Lombardo’s public statements, lawmakers will continue to look at the policy.
Suggestions for expanding the city council were not officially recommended by the city’s charter committee, prompting lawmakers to question why they should set a precedent that would circumvent the newly created charter committee.
The North Las Vegas Police Officers Association, North Las Firefighters Union 1607, North Las Vegas officials and 15 Nevada mayors submitted letters opposing the policy.
But several members of the charter committee testified in support of the bill, saying they were barred from opportunities to make their own recommendations to city leaders, such as on expanding the city council, and were only allowed to weigh in on issues such as whether city officials should create another municipal judge position.
“I really didn’t hear anything about having another meeting with the charter committee until after the election — almost December at that point,” said North Las Vegas lobbyist Leonardo Benavides. “Where the discussion was, does that make sense as we’re gearing up for the legislative session, where changes might be done to charters because I don’t think they were built with that intent.”
The proposal is sponsored by Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) who made an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2022 against Pamela Goynes-Brown.
Goynes-Brown testified in opposition to the policy suggesting that the motivation behind the policy is personal because she won the mayorship. She also compared the policy to right-wing election denial and called it an underhanded, disgraceful last effort to divert the outcome of the election.
“This has been a very difficult session for North Las Vegas,” she said. “Our community and staff have been under constant attack by a couple of people with deeply personal motives.”
Spearman said the bill reflects the demands of working people in her district who might be struggling to pay for life essentials such as “fair and equal housing.” She added that despite rumors about the motivation behind the policy, the bill draft request was filed with the Legislature in 2021 prior to the outcome of the mayoral race.
“I would encourage the committee members to go back to the overview of Senate Bill 184 … you'll see that it's BDR No. 5, which means that the bill came at the very end of the 2021 legislative session,” Spearman said.
Various organizations spoke in support of the policy, including North Las Vegas residents and members of the North Las Vegas City Charter Committee, the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and SEIU Nevada Local 1107.
Cesar Carvajal, a lifelong resident of North Las Vegas, said during testimony that adding additional council seats would help address issues such as housing affordability, income inequality, poverty and wage disparities.
“We are the most diverse city and we deserve more than four representatives,” he said.