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Lawmakers cut thousands of higher ed employees out of state worker bonus bill

Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
LegislatureState Government
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A bill backed by Gov. Joe Lombardo proposing a pair of $500 bonuses for state employees is being amended to exclude more than 7,700 professional employees in the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE).

Of that group, roughly 4,900 employees are in state-funded positions that are traditionally subject to state employee compensation boosts, such as cost-of-living adjustment raises. The remainder, roughly 2,800 employees, are funded by grants or other so-called “self-supporting” funds. 

The change comes via an amendment to AB268 requested by Assembly budget committee chair Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) and presented by legislative staff during a brief Monday morning committee meeting. Lawmakers on the committee unanimously approved the measure, sending it to the Assembly floor.

In an emailed statement sent Wednesday, Monroe-Moreno told The Nevada Independent that the original bill "did not support the appropriation of funding for executive branch employees and the full cost of NSHE professional employees."

"In fact, it was significantly underfunded," Monroe-Moreno said, before referencing a now-defunct state program paying bonuses for the length of state worker tenure. "I expressed my interest to include other employee classifications that would be consistent with our prior state longevity program."

The initial version of the bill proposed two $500 bonuses for state “executive branch” workers who are employed as of March 31 and June 16, a move that Lombardo Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer described during a hearing last week as an “acceleration” of a State of the State promise from Lombardo for “$2,000 annual bonuses, for every executive branch state employee, to be paid quarterly.” 

The amended bill instead requires the bonuses exclude professional staff at NSHE and those working in “temporary, intermittent or seasonal” positions. The amended bill also now includes funding for similar $500 bonuses for employees of the Judicial Department, legislative branch ($325,000) and Public Employees’ Retirement System ($81,000).

Kieckhefer said during a hearing last week that the bill was originally “designed to cover faculty and classified employees,” noting that it would cover 22,400 people, including 16,597 state employees who are not a part of NSHE. 

Kieckhefer also noted at the time that the bill is only the first installment of bonuses for state employees and designed to cover the final two quarters of the fiscal year, meaning legislators still need to approve funding for the retention bonuses for the upcoming two-year budget cycle.

“The Office of the Governor is eager to deliver bonuses to state employees and will continue to monitor AB268 as it works through the legislative process,” Elizabeth Ray, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said in a statement Monday.

The governor’s office did not directly respond to a request for comment about the exclusion of NSHE professional employees from the bill.

Monroe-Moreno did not immediately respond to a request for comment about why those workers were excluded, though she said during a hearing of the bill last week that the $23 million allocated in the initial proposal “would not cover all NSHE employees” — who make up nearly half of all executive branch workers. 

The expanded coverage for non-executive branch employees also comes after comments Monroe-Moreno made last week about supporting employees who have been with the state “through thick and thin.”

“I would have issue as a fiscal leader in this body to only give bonuses to the executive branch, so I will be instructing my staff to bring back for the work session on this bill, what it would look like to include the executive branch, the NSHE classified, [Nevada Department of Transportation], judicial branch staff and the legislative branch staff,” she said.

NSHE had more than 14,000 employees listed in an online database as of 2021, though only 67 percent of those employees — roughly 9,700 — are listed as full-time staff. That number also includes full-time classified employees, who were not excluded from the new bill language. 

“NSHE professional unclassified employees are being singled out, even though we are part of the executive department of the state,” Kent Ervin, president of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, told the committee during public comment Monday. 

Those unclassified employees include thousands of entry-level teaching faculty, administrative staff and lecturers. 

During a hearing of the bill last week, Monroe-Moreno said the $23 million allocated in the bill “would not cover all NSHE employees.”

It was not immediately clear if lawmakers will continue to exclude NSHE employees in future bills allocating money for retention, or if Monday's amendment will have any impact on plans to boost state worker pay by 8 percent in the next fiscal year and 4 percent in the year after. 

Update: 3/13/23 at 4:11 p.m. - This story was updated to include additional details on the number of state-funded professional employees at the Nevada System of Higher Education, versus grant-funded or self-supporting employees.

Update: 3/15/23 at 11:00 a.m. - This story was updated to include additional comment from Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas).

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