Lawmakers mull ‘Homeless Persons’ Bill of Rights’ amid crackdowns on sidewalks, parks

Carly Sauvageau
Carly Sauvageau
Opponents of Vegas homeless ordinance

Nevada lawmakers are considering adopting a “Homeless Persons’ Bill of Rights” that would guarantee any unhoused person the liberty to “use and move freely in or on public places including, without limitation, public sidewalks, government buildings, public parks and public transportation vehicles" to the extent of any other Nevadan. 

Before Friday’s hearing on SB142, bill sponsor Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) submitted an amendment to cut language in the original bill that would have allowed homeless persons the right not to give an employer a mailing address, specific legal reliefs if they are tried in a court and “a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her personal property, regardless of his or her location or the location of the property."

"There is nothing in this bill that is intended to give a homeless person more rights than any other resident," Harris said during a Friday hearing on the bill in the Senate Judiciary committee. She said this bill will not invalidate any local ordinances, but she wants to ensure every resident's rights in state law.

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) questioned the point of bringing the bill forward.

“The bill doesn't give any additional rights to homeless [people, it] doesn't take away any rights that we have,” he said. “It's a declaration. It doesn't do anything. It doesn't change any current laws to do anything that protects the homeless.”

"I do not believe I am changing anything in the law ... there are some folks who are nervous about this bill because they may not be complying with the rights I'm outlining," Harris said during the hearing.

The Homeless Persons' Bill of Rights was strongly supported by groups including the ACLU of Nevada, public defender offices in Washoe and Clark counties, the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual and Violence and the NAACP of Las Vegas.

However, several legal and law enforcement groups were opposed to the bill.

The Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities, the Nevada District Attorneys Association, the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Washoe County Sheriff's Office all testified in opposition. Lobbyist Warren Hardy, representing a consortium of municipalities, said the group was in “soft” opposition and needed additional time to review the amendments but looked forward to working with Harris further on the bill. 

"We appreciate our spirited conversations and discussions and we look forward to those additional conversations with the amendment that we received last night and we are confident that we'll be able to come together," said LVMPD representative Beth Schmidt.

The bill comes in the wake of municipalities including Reno, Sparks and Las Vegas adopting laws imposing fines and possible jail time for people sleeping in public parks, sidewalks and streets.

“One hundred percent, this is a response to some of the moves of localities that I've seen that I would characterize as attempting to solve homelessness by making it a crime,” Harris said during a phone interview Thursday with The Nevada Independent

"This bill is not designed to get homeless people off the streets. It's not designed to encourage them to get on the streets. We've got a lot of work to do around how we approach this issue. We actually want to solve the problem," Harris said. 

Updated 3/3/2023 at 5:19 p.m. to include details from the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.


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