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The Nevada Legislature as seen on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Nevada businesses such as grocery stores or movie theaters could be required to pay unemployment insurance for each self-service terminal or kiosk used by customers under a bill proposed by Democratic Assemblywoman Susie Martinez.

Introduced Friday, AB394 is short and straightforward, requiring all Nevada businesses with self-service terminals, kiosks or similar devices owned by an employer to pay into the state’s Unemployment Compensation Fund for each such device owned — and in an amount equal to the average contribution paid by the business for its other employees. Funds paid would go to an administrative budget account that administers the unemployment compensation program.

Martinez, a legislative freshman who works at the Flamingo and is a shop steward for Teamsters Local 986, said in an interview that she brought the bill forward based on her own experiences seeing the hotel industry replace front-desk workers with kiosks.

“I’ve seen it happening; it’s happening right now,” she said. “We had so many employees, and every time that machine keeps taking work from us. It’s like our jobs are being taken away by machines.”

The measure could spark a wider discussion as to how increased automation could affect Nevada’s workforce, which is overwhelmingly dominated by service-industry jobs and could see major disruptions from advancements in technology. McDonald’s, for example, announced last year it would spend up to $53 million to upgrade its restaurants with enhancements, including self-service kiosks.

Bryan Wachter, a lobbyist for the Retail Association of Nevada, said in an interview that he had serious concerns with the policy and implementation of the bill — which he called “almost a minimum wage on robots” — and said it would have a lopsided effect on businesses with large amounts of turnover because of how the state’s unemployment compensation formula works.

“The value of that kiosk will have a much different rate on a local franchise that maybe has a lot of turnover versus a long standing company that doesn’t have that turnover,” he said. “The inconsistency is really going to drive a lot of that concern as well.”

It’s unclear whether similar policies have been introduced or implemented in other states.

“When I read the bill after it dropped, it was the first time we had seen anything like that to our experience, so we’re certainly doing that due diligence to try and learn more,” Wachter said. “But we were certainly kind of caught off guard.”

Martinez said she had not had conversations with any opponents of the bill yet, but was open to changing the amount businesses had to pay into the unemployment insurance fund and was willing to negotiate on the bill.

“We’re willing to work with everybody and see what they think, because at the end of the day, we all want everybody to be happy,” she said.

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