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Democratic Sens. Yvanna Cancela and Chris Brooks at the Nevada Legislature on Feb. 4, 2019. Photo by David Calvert.

Lawmakers took key votes on Tuesday on legislation that would remove criminal penalties on abortion, ban marriages for people under the age of 18 and raise the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030.

In total, lawmakers approved 85 bills — 34 in the Senate and 51 in the Assembly — forwarding them onto the other house for consideration. All bills not exempt or waived from deadlines must pass out of their house of origin by April 23.

Other bills passed would add Nevada to a pact of states pledging their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, cap expenditures on a scholarship program to send low- and middle-income kids to private school and open up an electric vehicle subsidy to electric school buses.

Here are highlights from bills that passed on Tuesday.

SB179: Decriminalizing abortion and changing informed consent

Legislation proposing to remove criminal penalties on abortion and change the state’s informed consent law passed the Senate 12-9 on Tuesday. Democratic Sens. Mo Denis and Marcia Washington joined seven Republicans in opposition to the bill, while Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer crossed party lines to join Democrats in support.

“I think it basically cleans up existing law. I don’t think it makes any dramatic changes to what’s currently allowed by a vote of the people,” Kieckhefer said in a brief interview after the vote, adding that he had “very serious reservations” about the legislation as it was initially introduced, particularly with its proposed elimination of the requirement that doctors inform women how far along in their pregnancy they are before the abortion.

But before a hearing on the bill last month, the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, decided to keep in place that requirement as well as leave untouched the state’s parental notification law that was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court but remains on the books.

During the hearing, Cancela framed the legislation as an effort to remove statutes that could be used to punish women who receive an abortion and ensure that patients receive medically relevant information. But opponents expressed concerns that the bill goes too far in its changes and could actually end up hurting women.

On the floor, Republican Sen. Ira Hansen proposed an amendment that would have incorporated AB327 — a bill that died in committee and was sponsored by his wife, Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen — into the bill. The amendment, which was rejected 13-8 on party lines during a roll call vote, proposed requiring providers to give women a list of locations where they can receive an ultrasound free of charge as part of the informed consent process.

“The reason I have the amendment to the bill is because our goal honestly, I think, as a body is to reduce the number of abortions,” Hansen said, “and there is clear and overwhelming evidence that when people are shown an actual ultrasound of the fetus that in fact the number of abortions is reduced substantially.”

In response, Cancela raised a number of what she described as “practical questions” with the amendment, including how providers would obtain a list of entities that provide no-cost ultrasounds, who would compile the list and who would ensure that only medical professionals are providing the ultrasounds. Pro-abortion rights advocates typically argue that such ultrasounds are not medically necessary and attempt to appeal to women on emotional grounds.

“Unfortunately what’s happened in other states is without proper regulation, clinics pop up that provide misinformation to women, non-medical based information, and my concern with this amendment is that it opens a loophole for information to be given that does not actually reflect medical procedure,” Cancela said, “and while that information is available widely in other places, it should not be given to a woman from a medical provider.”

As passed by the Senate on Tuesday, the bill would repeal criminal penalties on abortions performed outside the scope of Nevada’s abortion statute, including self-induced abortions. Under existing law, anyone who performs such an abortion is guilty of a category B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. It would also remove penalties for anyone who sells drugs to produce a miscarriage and repeals a statute on whether someone has to testify against themselves in an abortion-related prosecution.

A second portion of the legislation proposes to change the state’s abortion informed consent law by removing a requirement that doctors explain to women the emotional implications of undergoing the procedure.

AB281: Immigration holds without probable cause

Shortly after Republicans launched a social media campaign asserting that the Legislature would make Nevada a sanctuary state, lawmakers cancelled a vote on AB281, a bill that would prohibit law enforcement agencies from holding someone on an “immigration detainer” unless there was probable cause that they committed another crime.

Las Vegas police testified in favor of the bill, which explicitly preserves the 287(g) program and allows law enforcement to share information with federal authorities. But Republicans, including the PAC of former gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt, highlighted a recent quadruple murder in Northern Nevada allegedly committed by a man who was in the country illegally, tweeting a picture of the man and the text “we cannot forget that #sanctuary policies endanger Nevadans.”

Bill sponsor and Democratic Assemblyman Edgar Flores said he wasn’t sure why the bill was sent to the “chief clerk’s desk,” where it may stay indefinitely. Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson said “we need more time to discuss it.”

AB186: National Popular Vote

Members of the Assembly voted 23-17 in favor of AB186, a bill that would enter Nevada into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which seeks to elect the president by popular vote instead of through the Electoral College.

If the bill becomes law, Nevada would join states that are pledging their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote for president, regardless of how each individual state votes. The bill’s provisions would only take effect once states with a cumulative 270 votes (the number needed to win in the Electoral College) join the compact. So far, 13 states with 189 electoral votes have signed on.

In floor speeches, bill opponents zeroed in on the fact that the Electoral College model — and candidates’ quest to win the six electoral votes of early-state Nevada — has catapulted the state to political importance. Presidential hopefuls make frequent visits to the state to woo voters, something that proponents say would be gone if candidates just needed to win population centers such as California, Florida and New York.

“Little Nevada, with a population of just 3 million — we have fought hard for and enjoyed national political influence,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson. “I’m not ready to cede that power to anyone, or to a state that’s bigger than us.”

Bill proponents said switching to the popular vote to choose the president would ensure that all votes carry equal weight.

“The idea that our votes can be nullified and not count toward the election of the president is an erosion and disregard to the sacrifices made for our right to vote,” said Democratic Assemblyman Alexander Assefa. “Our state, by entering the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, will be honoring the historic sacrifices, and sends a clear and unmistakable message that the people’s voice matters.”

SB358: 50 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard by 2030

With little debate or comment, members of the Senate unanimously approved a bill that would raise the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030.

SB358, which is sponsored by Democratic Sen. Chris Brooks, not only raises the state’s minimum renewable production standards to 50 percent by 2030, but also does away with various multiplier credits and energy efficiency credits used to comply with the standard. The bill applies not only to NV Energy, but also to any company receiving electric power from another provider and certain municipalities and rural electric cooperatives that produce a certain amount of power.

The bill also allows for hydropower in place before the bill’s passage to count toward the RPS (it previously wasn’t) and prevents any administrative fine from being levied against utilities required to comply with the standard until 2030, unless the utility falls short for three consecutive years.

A 2017 version of the legislation, also sponsored by Brooks, was passed on mostly party-line votes and was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. He cited concerns that the bill would interfere with or negatively affect implementation of Question 3, a failed 2018 ballot measure that would have amended the state’s Constitution to transition the state into a competitive retail electric market.

AB139: Banning marriage under age 18

Assembly members voted 32-8 to support a complete ban on people under the age of 18 getting married. Opponents included Democrats Teresa Benitez-Thompson, Maggie Carlton and Daniele Monroe Moreno, as well as Republicans John Ellison, Alexis Hansen, Al Kramer, Robin Titus and Jim Wheeler.

Republican Assemblywoman Jill Tolles spoke in favor of the measure, saying sex traffickers who know Nevada does not have an age floor for marriage bring girls to the state to get married.

“I believe this bill takes our state in the right direction and corrects abuses currently in the system,” she said.

Carlton said she does not support children being married off into abusive relationships, but disliked that there was no compromise creating a path forward for youth ages 16 and up who have passed the age of consent.

“There should be an alternative route. They should be able to present their case to the judge, get sign-off, and be able to go forward with their lives,” Carlton said. “The prohibition in this bill, I don’t believe will serve all Nevada families.”

AB458: Freezing Opportunity Scholarship expenditures

Assembly members took a party-line vote on AB458, a bill that would stop the growth of the Opportunity Scholarship program, which uses a system of business donations and state tax credits to pay for K-12 students to attend private school.

The bill would freeze the amount at about $6.7 million of tax credits each year, rather than allow the tax credit allotment to grow 10 percent annually, as specified in the original 2015 bill.

“Given the success and popularity of the program, I’m disappointed that we’re voting on this bill,” said Tolles. “Opportunity Scholarships offer a shimmer of light to low-income and minority parents who are often struggling to make ends meet.”

Lawmakers in 2017 voted in favor of a one-time, $20 million investment in Opportunity Scholarships as part of a session-ending compromise. But that now means that hundreds of students could be dropped from the program if the Legislature does not fund the bill at 2017 levels.

“One of the reasons I know many of us were reluctant to support this bill last time with the increase in funding was because of the situation we’re in today — that families wouldn’t understand that the one-time appropriation going into this wouldn’t be something that could live forever in the state’s general budget,” Benitez Thompson said. “Really what we had to do as state legislators was commit ourselves to a great public education system and once we go there, then we could look for other ways to put more money into other kinds of education.”

The 10 percent growth mechanism is separate from and predates the $20 million one-shot appropriation, but Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson has called the increases built into the law unsustainable. Under that formula, the state would be disbursing $117 million a year to Opportunity Scholarships 30 years from now.

SB299: Incentives for electric buses

Members of the Senate unanimously passed this bill, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Chris Brooks and Pat Spearman, which would open up an existing incentive program for electric vehicles to create subsidies for purchasing electric school buses.

As written, the bill would allow public utilities — primarily NV Energy — to include incentives for public schools in their annual plan to promote electric vehicle infrastructure. Schools could receive 75 percent of the cost of either electric vehicle charging stations or electric-powered school buses.

SB410: Repealing tax credits used by Faraday Future

By a vote of 19-2, members of the Senate approved a bill that would repeal language approved during the 2015 special session offering millions of dollars in tax incentives originally offered to troubled electric car manufacturer Faraday Future.

The bill, SB410, repeals language allowing the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to offer $38 million initial transferable tax credits and recurring $7.6 million in transferable tax credits for any company or business that spends at least $1 billion in capital expenditures on a business or construction project in the state. It was initially approved during the 2015 special session for Faraday Future, which promised to build a massive electric car factory outside of North Las Vegas but abandoned the project in July 2017 amid ongoing money troubles.

The bill was opposed by Republican Sens. Pete Goicoechea and Joe Hardy, who said the city of North Las Vegas had raised concerns that repealing the language could harm efforts to attract a replacement for Faraday.   

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