Lombardo’s latest signings: Homelessness prevention fund, $250M for teacher raises
Once a bill is sent from the Legislature to the governor’s office, the clock starts ticking.
Gov. Joe Lombardo has only a certain number of days to sign a bill into law, and for measures passed by lawmakers in the final few days of the 2023 legislative session, the deadline is Friday, June 16.
During the legislative session, the governor has just five days to act on a bill — signing it or vetoing it — or else the legislation automatically passes into law. For bills transmitted to the governor in the final five days of the session or even after the session, the Nevada Constitution requires a signature within 10 days after the Legislature adjourns sine die.
The regular session ended June 5, and that timeline excludes Sundays, meaning June 16 is Lombardo’s deadline.
On Friday night, Lombardo’s office announced that he had received 611 bills throughout the legislative session. Of those, he signed 536 and vetoed 75 — an all-time veto record for a single session.
Some of the major bills he signed ahead of the Friday deadline included AB404 (a deal between doctors and trial lawyers to raise the state’s cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits), AB524 (an electric utility planning bill aimed at promoting development of more in-state energy resources), SB35 (a bill that would raise penalties for fentanyl trafficking) and SB450 (a measure to help relocate residents of the Windsor Park community in North Las Vegas).
Read below for a look at some high-profile measures Lombardo signed in the final days before the deadline. Click here for a list and overview of every bill he has vetoed.
For a complete list of bills from the 2023 legislative session, including those signed and vetoed and those that failed earlier in the year, click here.
Lombardo signs bill increasing the cap for medical malpractice noneconomic damages
Fraught discussions and tense backroom negotiations over proposals to significantly raise Nevada’s $350,000 cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice lawsuits resulted in a compromise setting the cap at $750,000 that Lombardo signed into law Friday.
The new cap is the product of a more than two-decade-long fight between politically powerful trial lawyers and Nevada doctors, and is a significant step down from other proposed caps of $2 million, $2.5 million and even no cap at all previously discussed during the legislative session.
Under the bill, the current $350,000 cap will increase by $80,000 every year for five years beginning in 2024. After the cap reaches $750,000 in 2028, it would increase by a flat rate of 2.1 percent a year.
Pain and suffering damages, also referred to as noneconomic damages, can include compensation for pain and distress, and are separate from economic damages such as awards to cover lost wages and future medical expenses.
Relocating residents of Windsor Park
After decades of the ground sinking in a historically Black neighborhood in North Las Vegas, Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) introduced SB450, the “Windsor Park Environmental Justice Act,” which allocates $12 million from the state housing division and applies $25 million in COVID-19 relief dollars to purchase and develop land where residents can be relocated. Lombardo’s signature paves the way for the housing division to begin the relocation program.
The policy originally would have required North Las Vegas to allocate $20 million to new efforts to relocate remaining Windsor Park residents, but after an amendment, it now requires the city to pay back $12 million to the state out of the tax revenue that is distributed to the city.
The policy received bipartisan support in the Senate but passed out of the Assembly on party lines, with Republicans opposed.
$100 million for homelessness prevention fund
Lombardo signed a measure establishing a wide-ranging homelessness prevention fund to build out supportive services in Southern Nevada through a project that could leverage as much as $200 million from the state, the gaming industry and other partners. The measure, AB528, was a joint effort between the governor, Democratic legislative leaders and the gaming industry, and passed out of both legislative chambers with wide bipartisan majorities.
Under the measure, the state appropriated $100 million to a new “Homelessness Support Services Matching Account,” which could be used to provide awards to a developer that pledges at least a $75 million capital investment for the construction of a project meant to help people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.
Though Lombardo vetoed a slew of measures aimed at increasing tenant protections and reforming the state’s summary eviction process, he signed one bill providing funding for rental assistance, as many local jurisdictions are running out of pandemic-era rental relief funds.
AB396, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas), allocates $18 million over the next two years to Clark County, the City of Reno and the City of Sparks for rental assistance. The measure passed with bipartisan support in the Assembly (36-6) and unanimously out of the Senate (21-0).
$250 million for teacher raises
The bill was brought by Democratic lawmakers as part of a push to incentivize school districts to boost employee pay (through the collective bargaining process) as a way to address vacancies. Though backed by the Clark County Education Association (CCEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union, the bill was roundly criticized by Republicans for excluding public charter school teachers.
That exclusion later became a major sticking point of last-minute budget negotiations, eventually sinking one of the state’s five budget bills after Senate Republicans voted in protest of what they described as a lack of “equity” between traditional public school teachers and charter school teachers. That budget bill was later approved in a brief, two-hour special session.
“Christmas tree” bills
Lombardo signed SB341 and AB525, a pair of so-called “Christmas tree” bills that allocate funds to more than 70 nonprofits and government agencies that provide education, health care and other community services.
The two bills faced opposition from Republican lawmakers, who criticized the allocations to nonprofits totaling more than $110 million in state funds as “pork bills.” The largest point of contention — and the largest appropriation — was $25 million to the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas. Culinary Union Local 226 is one of the most politically powerful supporters of Nevada Democratic lawmakers.
Changes to NV Energy planning process, encouraging build out of more energy resources
Lombardo has signed an electricity resource planning bill, AB524, that came after months of negotiations between NV Energy, Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), major energy customers and conservation groups, but promptly faced opposition from NV Energy after it was introduced.
The measure generally aims to encourage the development of more in-state energy generating resources to reduce NV Energy’s reliance on costly energy purchases from the open market needed to meet peak demand during excessively hot summer months. That aligns with a March executive order from Lombardo seeking to increase the state’s energy independence.
Despite the utility’s initial opposition, lawmakers quickly moved forward with the bill in the final days of the session, advancing changes to the company’s long-term resource planning process meant to bring greater transparency in how NV Energy plans for new energy generating resources, such as gas plants.
Ultimately though, NV Energy threw its support behind the bill, with an added provision requiring the utility to include in its long-term resource plans a proposed scenario for reducing its reliance on the open market through in-state resources, with a "significant share” of those resources “owned by the utility."
Increased penalties for fentanyl trafficking
As lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pushed this session to combat a rising number of opioid overdose deaths driven primarily by fentanyl, Lombardo signed SB35, a bill that increases criminal penalties for trafficking fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives.
The bill, however, fell significantly short of Lombardo’s own proposal to increase penalization for possession of the drug in any amount.
After significant amendments adopted late in the session, the bill established tiered penalties for trafficking, starting with low-level trafficking set at possession of 28 to 42 grams of fentanyl and punishable by one to 10 years imprisonment.
That is a significant increase from proposals considered during the session of setting low-level trafficking at 4 to 14 grams — a range that was panned by criminal justice advocates as re-instigating policies from the war on drugs of the 1980s and 90s that triggered harsh mandatory minimum sentences for possession of a substance.
- Election procedures manual — SB54, a bill that came from the secretary of state’s office and passed with bipartisan support, requires the secretary of state to publish an election procedures manual to ensure local election administrators follow the same set of procedures across the state. The bill emerged as the state saw significant workforce turnover among election officials.
- Ballot boxes at tribal reservations — SB327, a bill that passed nearly unanimously out of both houses and that was sponsored by Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas), requires local election officials to establish a polling location and ballot drop box “within the boundaries of an Indian reservation or Indian colony,” unless the tribe elects not to have one or does not provide proper information to establish the election site at a certain location. Previously, tribes would have to make a request to ensure a polling location was established.
- Election administration tweaks — AB192, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Cecelia González (D-Las Vegas), includes a range of technical changes, including requiring uniform envelopes for mail ballots statewide, expanding requirements for electioneering signs at polling places and adjusting timelines for post-election audits and requesting a recount of a presidential election. It also prohibits tampering with any computer program used to run an election.
- HIV modernization — Dubbed the HIV modernization bill by supporters, SB439 establishes policies for uninterrupted services to people with HIV during public health emergencies, imposes requirements on prisons and jails for HIV treatment and prevention, expands insurance coverage for STD testing and treatment, substance use disorder treatment and requires training on HIV stigma for health care providers.
- Prohibiting subminimum wages for people with disabilities — AB259, would phase out “subminimum wage” — the practice of paying employees with disabilities less than the minimum wage and sometimes as little as three to four cents an hour. During the 2019 legislative session, a similar measure died without a vote. The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate and Assembly.
- Addressing fetal alcohol syndrome — AB422, sponsored by Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow (D-Las Vegas), would require the Aging and Disability Services Division to create a pilot program to serve children diagnosed with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The measure passed unanimously out of the Legislature.
- New regulations for student loan companies — AB332, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno), would have created a new set of regulations for companies that handle the billing process for federal student loans, and private lenders of student loans. Among those new regulations would be the licensing of loan servicers, who would be overseen by the state’s Commissioner of Financial Institutions. The measure had bipartisan support in both houses.
- Collective bargaining appropriations — SB510, an implementation bill that funds the collective bargaining agreements for a handful of state worker unions, comes after Lombardo voted against approving those agreements as part of his role on the Board of Examiners last month. That vote drew the ire of the Nevada Police Union (NPU), which represents the state-employed police. But the final language of SB510 also excised a handful of specific line items in the bargaining agreements that Lombardo had criticized before voting “no.”
Lombardo’s government modernization bill
During a Friday ceremony in Carson City, state agency heads and other department officials joined Lombardo as he signed SB431 — one of his five major policy bills and a sweeping government modernization measure aimed at improving the efficiency of state government services through new hiring practices, a readjustment of certain state offices and more.
The measure, which passed on the final day of the session following last-minute negotiations between Democratic legislative leaders and Lombardo’s office, was significantly amended on the final day of the session to remove provisions reorganizing the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation as the Department of Workforce and creating the Nevada Way Fund, a flexible spending account the governor would have had significant control over.
The final version of the bill includes the creation of a new Office of Nevada Boards, Commissions and Councils Standards, moves oversight of information technology services from the Department of Administration to the governor’s office and creates a new chief innovation officer position within the governor’s cabinet.
Terry Reynolds, the director of the Department of Business & Industry, described the bill as “probably the most significant change in the executive branch for the last 25 years.”
Jack Robb, director of the Department of Administration, heralded a portion of the bill overhauling state hiring practices as a way to reduce chronic vacancies in state government. That includes eliminating the use of competitive examinations and instead requiring agencies to recruit and evaluate prospective employees “through open competition on the basis of knowledge, skills and ability.”
“It's going to allow us to get more employees into the state of Nevada and become more efficient in the services we provide to Nevadans,” Robb said.
Throughout the legislative session, agency directors consistently told lawmakers that their divisions faced significant vacancies — Robb said Friday that state employee vacancy rates averaged more than 20 percent across agencies — that were driven in part by low pay compared with similar positions in local government and the private sector.
“This has been a problem for years. It was widely recognized, but very little action had been taken to change that course,” he said.
He also mentioned Lombardo’s signing of AB522, a landmark state worker pay bill providing some of the largest raises for employees in decades, as important for addressing vacancies.
But Lombardo did not achieve all of the changes he sought through SB431. The bill includes an increase on the cap of the state’s Rainy Day Fund, an emergency savings account, from 20 percent of all general fund appropriations to 26 percent. That’s lower than the proposed 30 percent cap in the original bill.
Also cut from the bill (even prior to the measure’s first hearing in April) was a bid to create several cabinet secretary positions within the governor’s office who each would have wide-reaching power over their respective service areas.
Another portion of the original bill eliminating a cap on state employee wages (which was set at 95 percent of the governor’s salary, less than $170,000) was removed but later included in the state worker pay bill. Officials in Lombardo’s office described that change as necessary to attract certain workers who can earn significantly more money in the private sector and local government, including accountants and water engineers.
Lombardo described the collective changes as a way to “totally stem the tide of the bloodletting of people leaving because we can't provide them a good wage and a quality of life.”
Governor signs bills on school supply reimbursements, adding subs to state pension plan
Several K-12 education-related bills got Lombardo’s approval on Thursday, including one focused on holding public schools accountable.
SB98 will require the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to establish metrics of performance for public schools for each grade and publish that online, as well as report it to state leaders. Another provision of the bill will require the Commission on School Funding, which previously only met every other year, to meet monthly between legislative sessions. The bill also expands the duties of the commission to include reviewing the academic
progress of students in each public school and consider strategies to improve the accessibility and ensure the equitability of programs in public schools. During his inaugural State of the State address, Lombardo emphasized the need for accountability to be tied to the boost in per-pupil funding coming to K-12 schools this biennium.
SB434 will make substitute teachers eligible to join the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS).
SB425 creates the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education that is tasked with developing a vision and plan to improve the state’s education system. The commission will consist of 24 members such as lawmakers, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. The bill appropriates $15 million for the commission for the next two years.
SB189 appropriates $2 million for Communities in Schools in Nevada, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students stay in school. The funding is aimed at providing public school students support with academics, basic needs, physical and mental health and social and life skills.
SB291 will allow student teachers to qualify for employment as a substitute teacher without completing at least four weeks of student teaching. The bill also appropriates nearly $1.6 million to the State Department of Education for the Nevada Institute on Teaching and Educator Preparation.
SB339 appropriates $10 million to the Nevada Department of Education to create a grant program for school supplies. Teachers, school counselors, school nurses and others can tap into the fund.
Regulating solitary confinement
As part of a long-term push led by Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) to reform the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for prisoners, lawmakers this year passed SB307, a bill that caps the use of solitary confinement at 15 days, unless correctional officers deem it necessary to keep the person in confinement for the safety of themselves or others.
The bill also requires the director of the Nevada Department of Corrections to adopt regulations governing the use of solitary confinement providing that it “may only be used as a last resort, in the least restrictive manner and for the shortest period of time safely possible.”
Under existing law, inmates can be sentenced to solitary for a predetermined length — anywhere from 10 to 365 days depending on the offense.
Lombardo signed the bill Thursday, and the new limitations on solitary confinement take effect at the start of 2024.
Changes to prohibited possession prosecutions
Provisions similar to those in SB367 also appeared in the original version of Lombardo’s omnibus crime bill, SB412, which sought to roll back various Democrat-backed criminal justice reforms passed in recent sessions.
Lombardo’s bill, however, was also cut down significantly, from 68 pages to just nine, and passed out on the final day of the legislative session.
Lombardo signed that amended version of SB412 — which changes the definition of strangulation in the context of domestic violence, allocates funding to improve drug testing including testing of amounts of fentanyl in drug mixtures and prohibits early discharge from probation for those convicted of home invasion — on June 12.
This story was updated at 5:16 p.m. on Friday, June 16, 2023, to include recently signed K-12 education bills.