Lawmakers end 2017 session on time after sine die surprises, major policy votes
Lawmakers shut the books on the 2017 legislative session Monday by pushing out budget bills that were part of a strategic compromise, imposing last-minute rules on Uber and Lyft and giving state employees a surprise raise.
The Legislature worked all the way up to the midnight deadline, holding a formal hearing on a ride-hailing bill with just two hours left in the session and adopting ethics rules to bolster sexual harassment policies in the final 10 minutes.
A timely sine die came after lawmakers broke through an impasse with a bargain Sunday night that places an excise tax on recreational marijuana and invests $20 million in an existing program similar to the stalled Education Savings Accounts. As part of the deal, some Republicans gave up their hardline “no ESA, no budget” stance and voted for an infrastructure project bill that needed two-thirds support.
Here's a look at what's happened on the final day:
SINE DIE SURPRISES
$28 million in state worker raises
In a last-minute surprise, lawmakers calmly gutted a bill, SB368, that dealt with illegal search and seizure of property and turned it in bill to raise state workers’ salaries.
The measure now adds a 1 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) in each year of the biennium, on top of the 2 percent COLA that’s already in the governor’s recommended budget for each year.
The under-the-radar move occurred about a half-hour before the session ended, without a prior hearing, through a floor amendment on which there was no discussion.
Lawmakers, including Democratic Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton, have indicated in past hearings that they would like to give state workers a raise after they made financial sacrifices during the recession.
Mystery donor matches funds for UNLV Medical School
Republican Assembly leader Paul Anderson told reporters early Monday that lawmakers were proposing a $25 million matching grant for the budding UNLV medical school, which is due to open in July. Anderson said the funds will only be issued if a private donor puts up equal funding.
Gov. Brian Sandoval announced at a budget bill signing ceremony Monday afternoon that the donor had come through and pulled a check for $25 million — with identifying information covered — out of his suit pocket. The $50 million total will go toward the physical medical school building.
The state funding comes through an amendment to SB553.
An amendment approved in a late-night conference committee gutted a bill that initially only dealt with estates and unclaimed property and replaced it with language that substantially extends confidentiality provisions between state gaming regulators and licensed casinos.
SB376 now adds more confidentiality to “information and data” shared by gaming licensees with regulators and prohibits that right of confidentiality from being waived for nearly any reason. The bill creates a “privilege to refuse to disclose” right for gaming applicants that would allow them to prevent any governmental agency, employee or agent from disclosing information.
The bill applies to any information communicated on or after the bill is signed into law.
Shortly after the amendment dropped, the governor and all four legislative leaders issued a joint statement, touting that the newly gutted bill would encourage the free flow of information between Nevada gaming regulators and casinos.
“We have agreed to support the inclusion of bill language into SB376 in order to provide our gaming regulatory system with more certainty and predictability related to the protection of proprietary information,” the statement said. “The bill — that is prospective only — codifies and clarifies existing gaming regulation associated with confidentiality.”
Earlier in the session, a secret recording by a top Nevada gaming regulator of Attorney General Adam Laxalt over concerns that Laxalt was acting on behalf of billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson divided the Legislature along party lines. Laxalt asked that the Gaming Control Board intervene in a lawsuit involving Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands and declare certain materials in its possession confidential.
The amended version of the bill never received a public hearing, but legislators allocated $100,000 for independent legal counsel for the state’s Gaming Control Board.
Ethics rules changes
With only minutes to spare before lawmakers were constitutionally prohibited from taking further action, members of the Assembly and Senate alike approved a last minute change to their Joint Standing Rules designed to streamline the process to file a harassment complaint, according to Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford.
ACR12 was introduced and approved by both the Assembly and Senate just before midnight. The bill text wasn’t immediately available early Tuesday.
A recycling run-around
After her bill implementing higher recycling goals and rolling back portion of construction waste monopolies failed to advance out of committee, Independent Senator Patricia Farley attempted a last-minute Hail Mary to amend similar language into a bill requiring ignition interlock devices for DUI offenders.
During a conference committee — the legislative process where Assembly and Senate members reconcile differences on amendments adopted in one of the legislative houses — on SB259, Farley gained approval of an amendment tweaking the bill to include language prohibiting motor carriers of “non-household refuse” from offering a price on waste-hauling that is “less than reasonable.”
The amendment appeared to be influenced by parts of the entombed SB315, another measure sponsored by Farley that aimed to disrupt Republic Service’s Southern Nevada monopoly over the hauling of construction and industrial waste.
The amended version of the bill, which wasn’t publicly heard or available before Monday, makes it a deceptive trade practice for waste-haulers to offer less than reasonable rates if the intent is to deter competition, and includes a definition of “reasonable” rate as no more than the aggregate cost of moving the waste and the price a final disposal site charges.
Republicans raised several complaints about the amendment process before senators were due to vote on adopting the conference committee report, leading to a second attempted conference committee that failed to gain traction. Senators shortly after decided to accept the Assembly amendment and move the “clean” bill out without any of Farley’s proposed language.
Major bills make their way to the governor
Sandoval signed four of the main budget bills on Monday funding the bulk of the state’s budget minus the $60 million in funds he requested earlier this year to restart the state’s divisive Education Savings Accounts program. The move was the final nail in the coffin after weeks of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over a compromise to fund the program.
While Republican senators and many Assembly members declared early in the session that they would vote against any budget without funding for ESAs, ultimately three senators and seven Assembly members joined Democrats in supporting the Capital Improvement Projects budget, which needed a two-thirds vote to pass.
At a bill signing, Sandoval told reporters that he never joined the chorus of “No ESA, No Budget” Republicans because he didn’t want to take a public stance “that basically dug me in.”
“At the end of the day, the way the session ended, I didn’t want to essentially shut down Nevada government,” he said. “And you know we worked really hard on trying to come up with a compromise with the Democrats on the ESAs, but at some point it became very clear that the Democrats weren’t going to support that.”
Earlier, the Assembly approved a trio of important bills that were part of a Sunday compromise between the two parties. They included:
- SB555, adding a one-time, $20 million appropriation to the state’s tax credit-funded Opportunity Scholarship program. While it’s far from the $60 million, universal Education Savings Account program that Republicans wanted, it will help more low- and middle-income students attend private schools on scholarship. The bill passed 34-8, with all the opposition coming from Democratic lawmakers.
- SB487, adding a 10 percent excise tax on recreational marijuana sales and several other revisions to medical marijuana taxation. Funds will go to the state’s “rainy day” reserve fund. The bill passed 32-9; opposition came from Republicans. It needed two-thirds support to pass.
- SB546, the Capital Improvement Program budget. It includes $346 million in projects ranging from roof repairs to planning for college educational buildings to a Reno veterans nursing home. The bill passed 34-8; opposition came from Republicans. It also needed two-thirds support.
DECISIONS ON HIGH-PROFILE BILLS
Last-minute ridesharing bill hearing
With roughly two hours to go before the end of session, members of the Assembly Ways and Means committee made the uncharacteristic move of holding a formal hearing over a measure that would require drivers for ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft provide evidence of a state business license within six months of being hired.
SB554 was introduced late last week by Democratic Senator Kelvin Atkinson and would require companies such as Uber and Lyft check and possibly dismiss drivers who don’t have a state business license within six months of being hired. State legislators approved the framework for ride-sharing companies to operate in the state during the 2015 session, including the requirement that drivers for ride-sharing companies obtain a business license.
The bill language is what was passed from the Senate as SB226. That bill was amended into a “toxic” form when it moved to the Assembly, and attracted heavy opposition from ride-sharing customers.
The committee passed the bill out on party-lines after Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson proposed whittling down the six month period to obtain a license down to three months. The full Assembly approved the measure without the amendment on a 32-10 vote.
Diabetes drug omnibus bill
A diabetes drug transparency bill was on its way to the desk of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval for his signature after the Assembly introduced, heard and passed the legislation Monday afternoon. The Assembly voted on party lines to send the bill to the governor, who has said he would sign the measure if it gets to his desk.
During an impromptu, seven-minute hearing on the Assembly floor, the three major insulin manufacturers — Sanofi, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly and Company — briefly registered their opposition to the bill, along with other pharmaceutical manufacturers and middlemen in the drug pricing process known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), responsible for negotiating between pharmacies and insurers. A last-minute Sunday night amendment to Republican Senate leader Michael Roberson’s bill requiring transparency from PBMs folded in most elements of Democratic Sen. Yvanna Cancela’s diabetes drug pricing bill, which was vetoed on Friday.
The hybrid bill, SB539, mandates transparency from both pharmaceutical companies and the middlemen in the drug pricing process known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) — who are responsible for negotiating between pharmacies and insurance companies. It also requires that health care nonprofits disclose any contributions they receive from the pharmaceutical industry, PBMs and insurers.
Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus, who voted against Cancela’s bill in its original form, continued to express concerns about the legislation in the brief committee hearing.
“This is a horrendously bad bill,” Titus said. “Although well-intended, the unintended consequences are going to be fairly dramatic.”
The Senate voted out the amended bill early Monday morning in a 19-2 vote, with Republican Sens. Joe Hardy and Ben Kieckhefer in opposition to the measure.
Sandoval told reporters Monday afternoon that he would sign the measure if it gets to his desk.
“I’m going to be proud to sign it,” he said.
Last-minute education funding
A major education funding bill that will put $36 million each year of the two-year budget toward “weights” for underperforming or special needs students will passed out of the Assembly in a 34-8 vote on Monday and is on the way to the governor’s desk.
SB178, which is sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mo Denis, is one of the first steps toward implementing a weighted funding formula statewide.
The Assembly also passed SB550, which allocates $17 million to the Clark County School District to renovate its human resources and IT systems, 37-5 in the waning minutes of the session. The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate on Saturday.
The bill also allocates an additional $5 million toward the Washoe County School District toward a “recently discovered budget anomaly” in the K-12 education budget that the district said would require the district to cut $6.6 million from its operating fund. The $5 million is enough to help the district in the first year of the biennium.
It also allocates $1 million toward the Boys and Girls Club in each year of the budget, another last-minute appropriation.
After a lengthy floor debate, Senators voted along party lines to approve an ambitious bill raising renewable energy generation standards to 40 percent by 2030.
After approving two amendments Sunday, Senators voted 12-9 to approve AB206 mid-Monday. The bill needs to go back to the Assembly for legislators to concur with changes made before it goes to Sandoval’s desk.
Republicans said they were generally opposed to the bill over a number of concerns, including the cumulative effect of more than two dozen energy bills passed this session, constitutional questions with retroactively requiring so-called 704B customers such as Switch and MGM who have left the electric grid to meet the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and uncertainty around a 2018 ballot question that would substantially restructure Nevada’s energy market.
Democratic Senator Kelvin Atkinson said that while the bill wasn’t perfect, he didn’t want to “kick the can down the road” on energy policy and that Nevada should be a leader in clean energy.
Bill sponsor Assemblyman Chris Brooks said Sunday that he’s still working with the governor’s office on the bill, which has expressed skepticism on the measure due to uncertainty with the energy deregulation ballot question.
Sandoval said Monday that he was still reviewing the bill, but was concerned that raising the portfolio standards would leave stranded assets.
“The issue in that bill is that if we increase the portfolio standard too big, it may cause us to build assets that we don’t need,” he said. “And so if we build assets that we don’t need, at the end of the day the ratepayers are the ones who are going to have to pay for that.”
The Republican governor did tell reporters on Monday that he planned to sign AB405, which reinstates favorable net metering rates for rooftop solar customers.
Outside of floor votes and rushed committee meetings, lawmakers spent much of Monday working out differences on bills in conference committees, where groups of three legislators each from the Assembly and Senate meet to discuss and negotiate on contentious items.
The most-high profile conference committee was held over SJR17, the so-called Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment extending more rights to victims of crime. Committee members voted 5-1 to remove a proposed Assembly amendment, meaning that the measure will go to the voters for approval in 2018.
A conference committee also decided to adopt an amendment to a campaign finance reporting bill, mandating quarterly reporting by candidates during an election.
SB547: Salary incentive program for teacher professional development
A bill requiring the Clark County School District to wall off enough money in its budget to support a salary incentive program died without a final committee hearing.
The measure, which was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Aaron Ford and supported by the Clark County Education Association, offers raises for employees who complete professional development or continuing education.
It would have been open to all educators regardless of what school they work in, but there were added incentives for those who work in Title 1 schools.
The bill attracted opposition from groups including the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank. The state teachers union was neutral on it.
AB269: Tax on vaping products
A proposed tax on vaping products, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams, has died. AB269 would have imposed a tax of 5 cents per fluid milliliter of liquid nicotine solution purchased by a customer in Nevada.
Vaping products, which vary in strength and flavor, often come in 30 milliliter bottles that sell for about $20. Nevada would have stood to gain about $1 million a year in tax revenue if it imposed the levy on vaping products, according to a fiscal analysis by the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
Bustamante Adams said there wasn’t appetite to take up major changes because there were new vaping rules coming down from the federal government.
AB186: Universal pre-K amended to pre-K expansion
A measure to expand pre-kindergarten programs, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, also never made it to fruition.
The bill, AB186, started as an ambitious proposal to implement pre-K at every public school and reduce the kindergarten age to 5 — at a cost of $353 million over two years. It was later scaled back, but never got a vote of the full Senate or Assembly.
The amended version sought about $10 million to help with pre-K expansion over the next two years, and put a heavy emphasis on breaking down the barriers to expanding the programs — such as the lack of space at regular elementary schools.
SB430: Achievement School District
A bill by Democratic Sen. Mo Denis to revamp the controversial Achievement School District, never got a hearing in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
The measure originally sought to abolish the ASD, which was created in 2015 and aims to help up to six persistently low-performing schools each year improve by converting them to charter schools. It encountered resistance from some of the schools that face conversion and view it as a hostile takeover.
The amended version would have allowed schools selected for conversion to choose a different option called A+ Schools if they don’t want to become a charter. That option would have allowed them to remain a traditional public school, but would assign them a new principal who would have total control over the school’s budget.
Principals lobbied against the bill and testified in opposition Monday morning during public comment.
AB414: Taping police interrogations
Senators rejected a bill that would require interrogations of people who are suspected of homicide or sexual assault to be recorded.
In a rare move, AB414 was brought up on the Senate floor on Sunday and failed 3-18.
The bill was backed by the Innocence Project, a group that seeks to exonerate people who are falsely accused of a crime. Backers argued that the bill would protect both police conducting the interrogation and the suspect, and would give the jury a better picture of the circumstances leading up to a confession than if the confession alone were the evidence.
Las Vegas police pushed back against the bill, saying they agreed with the underlying policy but didn’t want it codified in law. They worried it would govern “gray area” situations, such as a suspect making a spontaneous utterance out in the field rather than in an interrogation room.
AB396: Lobbying gift-giving expansion
A bill that would have allowed lobbyists to give “de minimis gifts” to lawmakers, their immediate family and legislative staff also failed to move forward. It never received a hearing or a vote in the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections, meaning it won’t make it to the floor in time for a vote before the Monday deadline.
The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly, would have barred lobbyists from giving multiple de minimis gifts with the intent of circumventing the lobbyist gift-giving ban. It also would have excluded educational meetings taken by the lawmaker in the course of their job, along with any food, beverages, travel or lodging provided to the lawmaker.
SB261: Physician-aid-in-dying legislation
A bill that would have allowed physicians to help terminally ill patients end their lives never received a second committee vote.
Nevada law currently allows patients with terminal conditions to refuse treatment that would keep them alive or resuscitate them. The legislation would have allowed a doctor to prescribe a controlled substance to a terminally ill patient — someone cannot be cured and will die in six months — that would end his or her life, if the patient meets certain conditions.
To be eligible, patients would have had to be 18 years or older, competent, a Nevada resident and diagnosed with a terminal condition by two physicians. They would also have to make an informed and voluntary decision and affirm that no one is coercing them in making their decision.
A final version of this story was posted on 6-6-17 at 12:50 a.m.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that an amendment to SB554 was approved by the full Assembly and Senate. While the amendment to the bill was approved by a committee, Assembly members passed the legislation without the amendment attached.