Nevada Policy Tracker: A guide to key issues in the 2023 legislative session
For the first time since the 2017 session, a Legislature led by a Democratic majority worked alongside a Republican governor to set policy for Nevadans. The Nevada Independent tracked key pieces of legislation and policy debates.
Scroll through the write-ups below for a summary of the most interesting storylines in the Legislature this year and how discussions played out across different policy areas.
Click on a policy area in the list below to jump to that specific section:
- CHILDREN’S ISSUES
- CRIMINAL JUSTICE
- ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
- HEALTH CARE
- HIGHER EDUCATION
- IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES
- K-12 EDUCATION
- LGBTQ ISSUES
- LOCAL GOVERNMENT
- STATE GOVERNMENT
- TAX POLICY
- TRIBAL NATIONS
The sale and regulation of cannabis in Nevada is changing under several proposals signed into law out of the session.
Gov. Joe Lombardo signed off on the Nevada Cannabis Association-backed SB195 that will end “time and effort billing,” or the Cannabis Compliance Board’s (CCB) hourly rates of up to $111 for state worker tasks such as reviewing security footage and conducting inspections. The bill would also cap noncompliance fees at $20,000 per violation and remove the ability to stack violations.
Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) introduced the lengthy SB277, or the “cannabis Christmas Tree bill,” which Lombardo signed, that increases daily purchase limits of THC products from 1 ounce to 2 1/2 ounces, removes the restrictions barring certain felons from serving on cannabis companies’ boards, being owners in the marketplace or cannabis agent cardholders, deems medical cannabis dispensaries to be adult-use facilities and drops the cost of licensing and renewal fees by more than $1,000 through $30,000 for certain establishments.
The cannabis Christmas tree bill also redefines “marijuana,” removing detached root balls from the usable THC classification and seeds. Additionally, SB277 authorizes county commissioners to launch educational programs that spread awareness about unlicensed cannabis businesses.
Lombardo signed off on SB225, which gives police departments the option to remove cannabis drug testing and confessions about cannabis use from the hiring process.
Nevada Cannabis Association and Sierra Cannabis Coalition supported legislation on behalf of cultivation licensees that revises the tax structure using California’s system as a model, through AB430. The policy lowered taxes for cannabis cultivators that are not vertically integrated, removing the requirement to pay 15 percent on the fair market value, now paying a 15 percent excise tax on the actual sale price.
The policy also requires the Cannabis Advisory Commission to study the potential effects that descheduling cannabis from Schedule 1, or the felony drug list, would have on local cannabis markets and report back by March 1, 2024. According to lobbyists, industry professionals do not all agree with descheduling, fearing that billion- dollar pharmaceutical corporations will take over.
Policies that died included AB253, sponsored by Assemblyman C.H. Miller (D-North Las Vegas), which would have created a “mobile cannabis concierge license” so small vendors could sell cannabis at events, and AB411, which would have allowed terminally ill patients to consume cannabis at certain medical facilities.
In an interview with The Nevada Independent Layke Martin, the executive director of Nevada Cannabis Association, said she is pleased with the outcome of the session. Still, lobbyists Scot Rutledge of Argentum Partners, who represents Green Life Productions, and Brett Scolari of Strategies 360, who represents cannabis companies including Thrive Cannabis Marketplace and Solarius, said they were left wanting more.
Rutledge said he would have liked to see SB402, which would have created a cannabis mentorship program, make it over the finish line, while Scolari said he has his sights set on uprooting illegal market activities, stating that during the interim until the next session he will work on policies that will do more to address “the elephant in the room” by seeking additional resources to fund large-scale investigations.
— Naoka Foreman
There were many losses in the children’s policy space but a few proposals did advance and gained the approval of the governor, such as SB232, which requires Nevada’s Medicaid program to cover postpartum care services for 12 months following the end of pregnancy.
The governor also approved AB137, which changes the term “fetal alcohol syndrome” in statute to “fetal alcohol spectrum disorder” to expand research, teaching, access to Medicaid coverage and data collection of the range of disorders associated with a baby being introduced to alcohol before birth.
Lawmakers also passed child sexual exploitation policies that the governor approved including AB183, which mandates that children in child welfare or juvenile justice settings statewide will now be screened for commercial sexual exploitation.
The Children’s Advocacy Alliance supported AB114, which was signed into law. The bill will change the makeup of the Early Childhood Advisory Council to add a wider range of voices.
Nevada has maintained low rankings in early childhood systems and lawmakers this session failed to advance measures that advocates for children said are key to boosting family and child stability. That includes AB113, sponsored by Assemblywoman Claire Thomas (D-North Las Vegas), which would have created a new office focused on pre-K programs, or daily classes for children 3 to 5 years old. The measure never passed a budget committee review.
Thomas also sponsored AB168, which died in a budget committee, but would have established a Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Program to study the deaths of infants younger than 1 with data on demographics, geographical locations and causes of death.
AB445, a bill from Assemblywoman Sabra Newby (D-Las Vegas) that would have awarded tax abatements to businesses that provide mental health services for children, also didn’t make it out of a budget committee.
Treasurer Zach Conine pushed for AB28, a bill that would have created $3,200 “baby bonds” for low-income families in Nevada in an attempt to address the state’s growing wealth inequality but the measure died in the Senate even after being scaled back. The bonds would have been invested by the treasurer until the beneficiary turned 18, when they could use it for expenses such as tuition or buying a house.
Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) introduced SB137, which would require Nevada Medicaid to cover donor breast milk for certain babies, including preemies, but it died without a committee vote after one hearing.
Another policy that died without a hearing was SB89, which would have specified that people who commit a sex trafficking crime face the same penalties if the crime is committed against a child or against an undercover officer.
Lawmakers wanted the Division of Child and Family Services to receive categorical grants annually, rather than incentive payments to child welfare agencies through SB41. But the policy failed to advance out of its first committee and included unfunded mandates imposed by the Legislature upon child welfare agencies, a reduction in federal funding and didn’t take into account the effects of shrinking Medicaid reimbursements.
Another policy that focused on children’s mental health that failed to advance was AB338. The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno), would have extended Medicaid coverage to art therapy services such as music, drawing, dance and art.
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) brought back a bill that would have increased regulations of midwives and established a Board of Licensed Certified Professional Midwives, after it failed to pass in 2021. AB386 passed out of the Assembly but failed to receive a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate, which is required for any policies that increase revenue for the state.
SB408 would have raised the age a child could be transferred from juvenile court and incarceration to adult criminal proceedings to 16 years old, but did not pass, even after an amendment lowered the age back to 14 years old.
— Naoka Foreman
During the 2019 and 2021 legislative sessions, the Democrat-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak approved many major changes to the state’s criminal justice system, including reduced sentences for low-level crimes, increased access to diversion programs that offer alternatives to jail time and decriminalization of traffic tickets, as well as policing reforms such as banning chokeholds.
Though Gov. Joe Lombardo criticized Sisolak’s criminal justice policies as “soft on crime” on the campaign trail, he failed to roll back those policies, as Democratic majorities in the Legislature blocked or amended out the vast majority of his sweeping criminal justice reform bill (SB412).
Democratic legislative leaders and the Republican governor struck a deal on the measure by the final day of the session, passing through a completely overhauled version of the legislation that cut it down from 68 pages to just nine, with only five provisions remaining:
- Prohibiting early discharge from probation for someone convicted of home invasion.
- Creating an enhancement of one to six years of imprisonment for those convicted of a drug crime carried out with a firearm.
- Changing the definition of strangulation in the context of domestic violence to align with the chokehold language from Nevada’s police brutality statute, defining it as intentionally impeding the flow of air or flow of blood to the brain.
- Providing a $500,000 appropriation to the Department of Public Safety to invest into machines that can test the quantity of fentanyl in a drug mixture. Nevada’s crime labs are unable to determine how much of specific drugs, such as fentanyl, are contained within a drug mixture.
- Clarifying the state’s misdemeanor trespassing law to indicate that when somebody's been warned to not trespass on a private property, that warning remains in effect for two years.
But even on the marquee criminal justice issue of addressing fentanyl overdose deaths — a top priority for Lombardo and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — a bill approved to increase penalties for fentanyl trafficking was watered down.
Lombardo’s crime bill initially proposed criminalizing possession of the drug in any amount as a category B felony, an increase from its current standing as a category E felony — meaning greater fines and more prison time. At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford proposed a package of two bills that would have set the floor for the crime of low-level trafficking at 4 grams of fentanyl — down significantly from previous trafficking threshold of 100 grams set in 2019.
But as criminal justice advocates and some Democratic lawmakers panned that proposal as too harsh and raised concerns that it could lead to imprisonment for low-level drug users, the Legislature ultimately passed out a proposal (SB35) defining low-level trafficking as possession of 28 to 42 grams of fentanyl and punishable by one to 10 years of imprisonment.
A trio of gun control bills also emerged as a flashpoint this session, with Lombardo’s first vetoes as governor rejecting Democrat-backed proposals to increase restrictions on firearm access — including prohibiting guns near election sites (AB354) and increasing the legal age to purchase semi-automatic rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21 years old (AB355).
Lombardo also vetoed a bill (AB160) that would have adopted procedures to automatically seal criminal records for anyone who is eligible. He said in his veto message the bill would “increase the likelihood that offenders would have their records sealed even if they shouldn’t be.”
Lawmakers also passed several bills meant to strengthen protections for children targeted by sex trafficking, including a measure (SB38) that would target school employees sexting with or luring students.
Lombardo also approved raises for state public safety employees through the state employee pay bill (AB522) above what he approved for other state employees, as public safety agencies, including the Department of Corrections, face high staffing vacancies and significantly lower pay than their local counterparts.
— Sean Golonka
Nevada lawmakers advanced several bills this session aimed at protecting the rights of people with disabilities.
SB315, sponsored by Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) and signed by Gov. Joe Lombardo in mid-June, establishes a bill of rights for people with disabilities and people who are 65 years or older receiving services paid for by Medicaid. It also creates a bill of rights for students with disabilities in Nevada’s K-12 education system. Proponents said the measure — which passed with bipartisan support out of both legislative chambers — would ensure people with disabilities have a say in navigating their lives.
Lombardo also signed a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas), AB259, that phases out “subminimum wage” — the practice of paying disabled employees 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.
As the state’s minimum wage increases, proponents of the measure said allowing for subminimum wages is unfair and takes advantage of people with disabilities.
Another bill Lombardo signed, AB422, sponsored by Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow (D-Las Vegas), requires the state’s Aging and Disability Services Division to create a pilot program to serve children diagnosed with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
AB242, a bill mandating every polling location contain at least two voting booths for elderly or disabled voters, was vetoed, and AB167, a bill requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a program for dementia care specialists in the state, died after it did not receive a vote in the Assembly.
— Tabitha Mueller
After a special session dedicated to considering a $380 million public financing package for a new Major League Baseball stadium in Las Vegas, Gov. Joe Lombardo’s approval of the package (SB1) brought Nevada one step closer to bringing the Oakland A’s to Southern Nevada.
But another major proposal aimed at vastly expanding the film industry in Southern Nevada through an unprecedented $190 million annual tax credit program failed to advance through the Legislature.
Both proposals emerged in the final weeks of the 120-day regular session — with the original baseball stadium bill (SB509) coming on behalf of Lombardo’s office after the team finally settled on a proposed stadium site.
The approved stadium legislation includes $180 million in transferable tax credits from the state spread out over at least five years, with the team able to sell those credits to other companies for cash, as well as an estimated $120 million in Clark County bonds, with the bonds and up to $120 million of the credits repaid through tax revenues generated by the stadium over the next 30 years.
Still, hurdles remain. Major League Baseball team owners need to approve the team’s relocation before the A’s can proceed. The team also needs to enter development and community benefits agreements with the Las Vegas Stadium Authority.
Though many sports economists criticized the deal, pointing to research showing publicly funded stadiums have little positive economic impact, bill proponents argued the stadium will boost state tax revenues over its lifetime.
The proposed film tax bill faltered, despite support from high-profile development groups Birtcher Development from Southern California and Howard Hughes Corp., the company behind the Summerlin master-planned community in Southern Nevada, that had pledged to build a pair of major studio campuses in Las Vegas. The bill, which would have expanded the state’s annual film tax credits from $15 million annually to up to $190 million for a period of 20 years, would have earmarked most credits for those two campuses.
The bill also had support from Sony Pictures, one of the largest film companies in the nation. After being discussed behind the scenes for more than two years, proponents want to bring the proposal back in a future legislative session.
Tesla’s planned multibillion-dollar expansion of its Nevada Gigafactory was central to economic development discussions in the early weeks of the session, with some Democratic lawmakers sparring with the governor’s office over a 2014 law that allowed Tesla to once again secure hundreds of millions of dollars in tax abatements.
Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) brought forward a bill (SB394) that would repeal the Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s ability to approve any tax abatement valued at more than $500,000, instead granting lawmakers greater power over large scale tax abatements such as those approved for Tesla. The bill failed to advance through the Assembly.
But Lombardo’s opposition to some economic development bills did not prevent their ultimate passage. Democratic lawmakers amended the provisions of two bills Lombardo previously vetoed into the stadium bill passed during the special session. That included SB299, requiring rail and monorail projects to comply with the state’s prevailing wage law, and SB429, requiring companies with more than 50 employees to offer paid family leave (at a rate of 55 percent of the employee’s pay for 12 weeks) in order to qualify for tax abatements.
— Sean Golonka
Though Gov. Joe Lombardo sought to roll back the sweeping changes Democratic lawmakers and former Gov. Steve Sisolak made to the state’s election processes over the past four years, Democratic legislative leaders refused to budge.
Through one of his five major policy bills, SB405, Lombardo attempted to end universal mail-in voting, move up the deadline to submit ballots and require people to show identification to vote. Democratic legislative leaders declared the measure dead on arrival and did not grant it a single hearing.
Other Republican-backed election bills — including proposals to require voter ID (SB230) and move up the deadline for receiving mail ballots (AB230) — did not advance past a mid-April bill deadline. Democratic leaders in the Legislature said they would not accept changes that limit access to voting.
Lombardo ended up vetoing several Democrat-backed election bills, including a measure (SB133) that would have created a felony penalty for creating or submitting a false slate of presidential electors, with penalties of four to 10 years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine. The proposal was driven by a 2020 plot led by Nevada Republicans that saw six people falsely pledge the state’s electoral votes to President Donald Trump despite him losing the popular vote to President Joe Biden.
He also vetoed AB242, a bill that would have prohibited hand counting of ballots and mandated that all ballots be counted with a mechanical voting system — a response to Nye County election officials’ efforts last year to count votes by hand.
On the final day of the session, Democratic lawmakers pushed forward an overhauled version of SB60 that would have required state constitutional officers’ “inaugural committees” to report financial contributions and expenditures, similar to what is required for political action committees.
The Nevada Independent had previously reported that Lombardo created a nonprofit organization to run events and fundraise for his inaugural balls rather than register a political action committee (which requires more transparency of donors), as his predecessors in the governor’s office had done. Lombardo vetoed the measure and said the transparency requirements should be applied more broadly.
And despite a push from advocacy groups to expand voting access by ensuring election materials are available in more languages, Lombardo vetoed AB246, a bill that would have required Clark County make ballots available in Chinese. In Clark County, the number of Chinese speakers who have limited English proficiency falls just short of a federal threshold to require election materials in their language.
Lombardo did sign a bill from Democratic Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar’s office (SB406) to increase protections for election workers who have faced rising levels of threats and hostility since the 2020 election through greater penalties for harassing those workers. He also signed legislation originally requested by former Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske to establish a standard procedure manual for local election workers.
— Sean Golonka
Water emerged as a top issue in the legislative session, with numerous proposals trying to address the Colorado River crisis and the overuse of groundwater from aquifers across Nevada.
Lawmakers approved — and Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo signed — legislation billed by Las Vegas water officials as a way to cut back on water use amid a changing climate, municipal growth and uncertainty on the Colorado River. The legislation, AB220, made a number of changes to law, notably giving the Southern Nevada Water Authority the ability to curtail excessive water use — typically outdoor landscaping — if a deep shortage is declared on the Colorado River. The bill also creates a program to help residents transition away from septic tanks, and gives the state more authority to regulate groundwater.
Other bills sought to address issues in groundwater basins where there are more rights to use water than there is water to go around. In response to a state Supreme Court ruling last summer, SB113 clarifies statutory language to require that groundwater management plans receive support from priority water rights users. Lombardo signed the measure, which passed out of the Senate and Assembly unanimously.
Several water bills failed to advance to Lombardo’s desk. SB176 would have created a program to buy back and retire water rights, but lawmakers did not vote on it despite support from environmental groups.
AB387 would have required state officials to consider the “best available science” in making decisions about water. Though the bill passed out of the Assembly on a party-line vote, it did not receive a vote in the Senate.
Lawmakers also weighed several pieces of legislation dealing with climate change and the energy transition, including provisions curbing emissions from buildings and creating incentives for electric vehicles.
In the final weeks of the legislative session, Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) introduced — and lawmakers and the governor passed — AB524, legislation that declared several energy policy directives for the state. They include emphasizing the importance of electric reliability and affordability, as well as the independence of regional energy markets, a thorough utility planning process and a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The legislation, which drew hours of testimony, aimed to bring more rigor to utility planning while responding to calls for NV Energy to build more in-state generation, from solar farms to power plants. The legislation also responds to recent instances where NV Energy has amended power supply plans that are usually submitted every three years, a decision that critics have said is less transparent and does not give state utility regulators a holistic view of the utility’s planning options.
Several measures that sought to center environmental justice perspectives in state-level decision-making and permitting did not make it out of the Legislature.
Used in federal permitting, environmental justice describes the ways in which the cost of habitat loss, pollution and other environmental harms are felt by vulnerable communities or are disproportionately depending on ZIP codes and demographics. AB71, which did not get a vote, would have required the Division of Environmental Protection to conduct an interim study on environmental justice. AB312, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno), would have created an Environmental Justice Advisory Council to advise policy and offer grants.
Lombardo did sign AB112, which will establish a fund for wildlife crossings, but another measure (AB221) that would have authorized the Nevada Department of Wildlife to manage insect species of conservation concern as “wildlife” did not receive a vote in the Assembly or Senate.
— Daniel Rothberg & Tabitha Mueller
SB441, legislation that sparked contentious hearings with the gaming industry and organized labor on opposite sides, was signed by Gov. Joe Lombardo in May after approval in both legislative houses.
Nevada’s major hotel-casino operators said daily room cleaning wouldn’t disappear with SB441’s passage. They just want the language stricken from state law. Union representatives, led by Culinary Workers Local 226, said daily room cleaning was “still a good policy” and was standard practice in Las Vegas before the pandemic.
The bill passed the Senate on April 21 in an 18-3 vote, followed by a 33-9 vote for passage in the Assembly on May 11.
The other issue that caused a split between the gaming industry and organized labor was AJR5, an effort to amend the Nevada Constitution to allow for a state lottery. The issue will come up again in the 2025 legislative session after clearing both houses this year.
The measure, which found support from the Culinary Union and other state labor organizations, was approved by the Assembly on a 26-15 vote in mid-April, followed by a 12-8 vote in the Senate in May.
Proponents of the legislation proposed by Assemblyman Cameron “C.H.” Miller (D-North Las Vegas) said tax revenue from lottery ticket sales should be directed toward youth mental health programs.
Nevada’s casino industry opposed the bill, which requires a second round of legislative approvals before Nevada voters could weigh in on changing the 159-year-old constitutional ban on lotteries.
Other gaming matters weren’t as contentious.
Despite surprising state lawmakers with a request for $10 million more than the state gaming regulators had sought to modernize its technology system, SB490 was unanimously approved by both houses. The Gaming Control Board will now be able to finish replacing its decades-old information technology system that oversees all aspects of the state agency.
A measure proposed by students from the UNLV Boyd School of Law was added to SB266 and removed a requirement that Nevada companies provide state gaming regulators copies of all documents filed in other jurisdictions. Instead, the companies just need to inform the control board of their gaming operations in another jurisdiction.
The legislation was unanimously approved by both houses and signed by Lombardo on June 13.
— Howard Stutz
Yet again, health care shaped up to be an important — and contentious — topic for legislators.
Amid a nationwide debate over abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) unveiled, and Gov. Joe Lombardo signed, SB131, a measure seeking to codify former Gov. Steve Sisolak’s executive order protecting out-of-state abortion seekers in Nevada and those providing reproductive care, regardless of other state policies.
The legislation passed out of the Assembly on a party-line vote with Republicans opposed and passed out of the Senate on a 15-6 vote, with Sens. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) and Carrie Buck (R-Henderson) joining Democrats in support.
Lombardo’s signature on the bill marks the first significant stance he has taken on abortion access in office, after his position on abortion shifted throughout the election cycle.
Lawmakers also voted along party lines to pass SJR7, which would enshrine abortion protections in the Nevada Constitution. The measure must be passed by lawmakers again in 2025 before it could go before voters in the 2026 general election.
As the state moves to shift Medicaid services to a statewide managed care model, the Legislature approved $3.8 million (including $1.9 million from the general fund) over the next two years to prepare for the implementation of the managed care organization program starting this summer. The program is expected to go live by January 2026.
Lawmakers also approved Lombardo’s proposed budget to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates under Medicaid’s fee-for-service plan for physicians, dentists and nursing homes, services to people with disabilities and certified behavioral health centers.
At the same time, lawmakers grappled with a lack of state-supported services for child mental health issues that have been described as a “crisis” — underscored by a federal investigation last year revealing that the state’s lack of adequate treatment and services to children and youth with behavioral health disabilities likely violated federal law.
But under a little-noticed bill (SB435) the governor signed in June allowing private hospitals to implement an existing “provider tax,” state health officials are hoping to leverage up to $30 million in new state funds to address a lack of youth behavioral health resources.
The bill builds upon an existing framework that grants private hospitals the ability to vote for a state-assessed “provider tax” of no more than 6 percent, earmarked as supplemental Medicaid payments as part of a federal dollar-matching program.
To attract and retain medical providers working in rural and underserved communities, Lombardo signed AB45, a bill sponsored by the state treasurer’s office that creates a student loan repayment program for health care providers working in those communities.
Not all health care related bills were successful.
Lawmakers considered but did not advance AB108, a bill that would have allowed Nevada to join the multistate Nurse Licensure Compact as part of an effort to address the state’s provider shortage. Though health care industry leaders lauded the bill for attempting to address the state’s nursing shortage, labor unions said it would undercut the state’s existing workforce. The bill did not advance out of its first committee.
Assemblywoman Venicia Considine (D-Las Vegas) led the charge on AB250, a bill that would have made it so the Medicare-negotiated price of a prescription drug would be the set price of that drug for the rest of the state regardless of insurance coverage.
After passing along largely party-line votes with Republicans in opposition, Lombardo vetoed the bill, saying it “would set arbitrary price caps in Nevada based on federal decisions with no review or consideration from state stakeholders.” He argued that “caps could restrict patients’ access to medicines and result in less innovative treatments for patients.”
The governor also vetoed SB239, a bill that would legalize medical aid in dying, which passed out of the Senate in a narrow 11-10 vote and out of the Assembly on a 23-19 vote — the furthest medical-aid-in-dying legislation has made it in Nevada. In vetoing the bill, Lombardo became the first governor nationwide to veto a medical-aid-in-dying bill.
In his veto message, Lombardo said he was “not comfortable supporting this bill” in light of “recent progress in science and medicine and the fact that only a small number of states and jurisdictions allow for similar end-of-life protocols.”
Though Lombardo opposed the state-run public health insurance option created by state lawmakers in 2021 and cut its funding out of the state budget, members of a legislative budget committee reversed those cuts and boosted funding for the program’s implementation.
— Tabitha Mueller
The Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) saw its largest budget boost since 2019 as lawmakers restored COVID-era cuts in excess of $75 million, boosted spending on graduate student stipends, funneled $60 million into deferred maintenance projects and allotted $2 million to study a new higher education funding formula.
The state’s community colleges also saw an additional lift in one-shot funding meant to hold those institutions harmless for pandemic-induced enrollment declines, which were set to factor into the funding formula starting this year and could have created severe budget shortfalls.
But lawmakers were reluctant to move much beyond initial promises. They rejected capital project funding, including for a pair of major buildings at UNR and UNLV. Another $17 million in proposed graduate medical education funding was zeroed out, and $36 million in new money for the state’s nursing programs was whittled to $20 million.
SB496, the major proposal to create new film industry infrastructure in Las Vegas — which would have been partially built on UNLV-owned land, and could have sent up to $19 million annually toward vocational training at Nevada colleges (in addition to a record expansion of film tax credits) — also died without receiving a vote. Notably, a push late in the session from movie star Jeremy Renner for the bill’s provisions to include Northern Nevada prominently featured UNR.
As state workers are set to receive the largest pay raise in decades over the next two years, NSHE professional faculty may likely receive less. That's because the bill allows the Board of Regents to determine cost-of-living increases — rather than mandating the new increases — which may not be raised as high in an effort to avoid raising student fees.
Faculty were dealt another blow with the veto of AB224, a measure that would have placed higher education professional staff under the state’s 2019 state worker collective bargaining law. It joined AB74 — a measure that would have expressly allowed public-private partnerships at NSHE — as the only two higher education bills vetoed by Lombardo this session.
Separately, several student groups will soon see reduced fees under three bills Lombardo signed. That includes the expansion of an existing Native American student fee waiver (AB150), the creation of a fee waiver for the children of Purple Heart recipients (AB279), and a bill (AB226), that will allow recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs to qualify for in-state tuition. However, a proposed fee waiver for homeless students (AB217) died without receiving a vote.
Lombardo also signed a bill, AB245, making changes to an existing higher education misconduct task force, including requiring K-12 schools to sign memoranda of understanding with third-party organizations that can assist victims of sexual misconduct or assault — what the bill terms as “power-based violence.”
Also approved was SB273, a bill that paves the legal pathway to change Nevada State College’s name to Nevada State University. It marks the beginning of the end for a yearslong effort at the institution — the state’s newest and only four-year college — with the formal renaming process set to begin in phases on July 1.
Finally, years of tension between the Board of Regents that govern higher education and the Legislature culminated in two major measures affecting the board. AB118 will reduce the number of regents from 13 to nine, as well as reduce the length of their terms from six years to four. The bill will phase in gradually from election to election, with the process completing by 2033.
Separately, lawmakers approved in a second consecutive session SJR7, a proposed constitutional amendment that would remove the regents from the constitution and put them in state law. This year’s passage ensures the measure will head to the 2024 ballot — allowing voters a second crack at a ballot question very similar to one that failed in 2020.
— Jacob Solis
Despite some victories — such as creation of a major homelessness services fund to serve Clark County — a sizable number of housing bills passed by Nevada lawmakers ended up either vetoed by Gov. Joe Lombardo or failing to reach his desk.
Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas) sought to amend Nevada’s unique rapid summary eviction process with AB340, a bill that would require a landlord to make the first filing in a summary eviction case. The bill passed on party-line votes with Democrats in support in the Assembly and Senate.
But the bill did not gain the support of Lombardo, who said in his veto message that it would “impose additional and unnecessary delays and costs to those seeking to remove individuals who unlawfully remain on their property after termination of their lease” and “create an inhospitable environment for residential lessors.”
As advocates urged lawmakers to revisit previously proposed tenant protections, Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas) sponsored SB78, which would have required landlords to disclose fees and prevent them from turning over tenant debt to collections or a credit reporting agency “unless the landlord obtains a judgment against the tenant for any such amount.”Lombardo wrote in his veto message that SB78 — which passed on party-line votes out of both houses with Republicans opposed — was “partially well-intended” but said it would “only serve to exacerbate an already challenging period” for renting families.
SB335, sponsored by Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas), would have extended the eviction protections adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic that expired June 1. Though the bill passed through the Assembly and Senate on largely party-line votes with Republicans opposed, it was vetoed by Lombardo, who said in his veto message that it would “create onerous burdens in Nevada’s residential renting market.”
It also would have appropriated $17 million from the general fund to the Department of Health and Human Services, in part to allocate to the Advisory Committee for a Flexible Continuum of Care program (an state-sponsored assistance plan for those at risk for homelessness) and satisfy requirements to match federal grants to fund services for the unhoused within the state. Lombardo said in his veto message the policy goals of the bill “are not without merit,” but that the measure is “duplicative of existing work.”
Other housing bills failed to advance to the governor’s desk.
Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) made a second attempt to protect people with a criminal conviction or arrest record from being denied housing with SB143. The bill specified that landlords could conduct a background check and deny a tenant who has a violent or sexual offense on their record, but otherwise could not reject an application based on a conviction record if the prospective tenant had served their sentence, been acquitted or exonerated.
The bill passed the Senate with a party-line 14-7 vote with Democrats and Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) in support, but the bill never made it out of the Assembly.
SB68 — which originally proposed raising the real property transfer tax by 20 cents statewide to fund supportive housing — died before receiving a floor vote.
Not every housing bill died during the legislative process.
Ohrenschall’s bill to prevent local government from prohibiting homeless people from accepting food and sleeping outdoors, SB155, was amended to allow someone charged with a misdemeanor homelessness offense to be placed in diversionary court programs and not be subject to certain fines. It was signed by the governor on June 10.
In the final days of the session, Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) proposed AB528, leveraging $100 million in state funds to create a new “Homelessness Support Services Matching Account.” The account will be used to provide awards to a developer who pledges at least a $75 million investment for the construction of a project meant to help individuals and families experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.
AB528 was signed by Lombardo last week.
Lombardo also signed AB396, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas), which allocates $18 million over the next two years to Clark County, the City of Reno and the City of Sparks for rental assistance.
— Carly Sauvageau
As 1 in 4 Nevada workers is an immigrant, policies affecting immigrant communities can have broad impact, and several new ones became law this year.
The bill also allows county commissioners to establish regulations for sidewalk vendors, from setting hours of operation and sanitation standards to creating maps and boundaries where they can operate.
Lombardo also signed AB226, sponsored by Assemblyman Reuben D’Silva (D-Las Vegas), allowing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients to qualify for in-state tuition after living in the state for 12 months and taking a high school equivalency test in Nevada.
A measure funding “language access plans” in state agencies, AB480, was signed into law, allocating $25 million to translate information and services into more languages for people with limited proficiency in English. The funding is set aside as a one-shot expenditure in the governor’s budget.
Before being vetoed by the governor, lawmakers had passed Doñate’s SB419, which would have provided state-funded health care coverage to uninsured pregnant people who don’t qualify for Medicaid, regardless of their immigration status.
The bill, also known as the Health Opportunities, Planning and Expansion (HOPE) Act, would have appropriated $1.7 million over the next biennium to provide the prenatal, labor and delivery coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides low-cost health coverage to people not eligible for Medicaid.
The final version had been scaled back from the bill’s initial goal of expanding Medicaid coverage to all undocumented people in Nevada, potentially adding tens of thousands of people to the state’s Medicaid rolls.
AB246 was also vetoed by the governor. The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), would have expanded access to election materials by requiring counties to provide ballots in more languages if there are at least 5,000 qualified voters from a minority group of limited-English proficiency in that county.
Under the new thresholds — lower than those in federal law — the bill would have required Clark County to provide ballots in Chinese in future elections. In his veto message, Lombardo said that existing federal and state laws “sufficiently accomplish the goal of ensuring language accessibility” and already allow county and city clerks the authority to add languages as they see fit.
Some bills that failed to gain any traction include AB30, which would have removed U.S. citizenship as a requirement to become a peace officer as long as the person is “legally authorized to work in the U.S.”
Doñate’s SB204, which would have allowed international medical students and doctors from a different country to earn a license to practice medicine in Nevada’s medically underserved areas, never received a vote of the full Senate.
And AB336, which died in the Ways and Means Committee, would have changed the expiration date on Driver Authorization Cards — driver’s licenses for people without a Social Security number — to eight years instead of four, aligning with regular driver’s licenses.
— Jannelle Calderón
The 2023 legislative session was a big one for K-12 education.
Not only did lawmakers approve a historic, $2 billion increase in K-12 spending – a jump of about 26 percent from the previous budget cycle that will increase the base per-pupil amount from $7,074 in fiscal year 2023 to $9,023 by fiscal year 2025 – but they also passed significant legislation around student discipline, teacher pay and more.
AB285 and AB330, introduced by Assemblywoman Angie Taylor (D-Reno) and Gov. Joe Lombardo, respectively, would roll back some provisions in AB168, a so-called restorative justice bill from 2019, including making it easier for school officials to suspend or expel students who are younger than 11, which was the age limit that was established in 2019.
Under the bills, students age 6 and older could be suspended for committing battery against a school employee; students age 8 and older can also be expelled and permanently expelled for the same offense. While the original policy sought to curb the school-to-prison pipeline, a push to roll back the 2019 law came after high-profile school violence incidents, and the issue was big on the campaign trail.
Lawmakers also approved Lombardo’s flagship K-12 education bill, AB400, which includes provisions that open the door for cities and counties to sponsor charter schools, appropriate transportation funding for charter schools and reinstates a policy that retains third grade students who aren’t reading at grade level.
However, other provisions that would have vastly increased funding and eligibility for the Opportunity Scholarship school choice program, created open zoning (a policy that would allow students to more easily attend schools outside their assigned zone) and created the Office of School Choice were stripped out of the final version of the bill. Without this increase, funding for Opportunity Scholarships will remain flat.
A separate bill that would have allocated $58 million toward Education Saving Accounts, a school voucher-style program that provides public funds for students to attend private schools, was never brought up for discussion.
Other bills that were passed this session include AB73, which allows students to wear regalia of cultural or religious significance to graduation; AB519, which will appropriate $64.5 million to the Elko County School District to construct a new school in Owyhee and also creates a way for rural school districts to work with their counties to raise money for capital projects; and SB292, which will make easier to fire principals during their first three years in the role.
AB175 will add four nonvoting members to the Clark County School Board, which will bring its membership up to 11 trustees. Those new members will be appointed by the Clark County Commission and the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson.
Among the bills vetoed by Lombardo were AB319, which would have continued funding for universal free school breakfast and lunch through the 2024-25 school year by allocating $43 million to the State Department of Agriculture; SB340, which would have required all Nevada school districts to submit plans for providing summer school options in 2023 and 2024; and AB282, which would have required school districts to provide a subsidy to help cover health insurance costs for certain long-term substitute teachers.
Bills that died before they could reach the governor’s desk include SB158, which would have required cameras in certain classrooms with students with special needs, and AB357, which would have provided sexual education to students unless their parent or guardian proactively opts them out.
— Rocío Hernández
As states across the country advance anti-LGBTQ legislation, including banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors and adults and making it illegal to perform in drag in public spaces, Nevada moved in the opposite direction.
Gov. Joe Lombardo signed SB163, a bill sponsored by Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) that would require health insurance companies to cover treatment of conditions relating to gender dysphoria (a condition in which an individual experiences discomfort or distress because of a mismatch between gender identity and sex assigned at birth) that had previously been exempted and classified as “cosmetic.”
“If a patient and their doctor decide that patient needs something, it's not up to the insurance companies or politicians or anybody else to stand in the way of saying ‘No, you don't,’” Scheible said at a June 20 press conference hosted by pro-LGBTQ group Silver State Equality.
The bill aligns with federal law and arrives after an employee with a state-sponsored insurance plan sued and filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) following the insurance plan’s rejection of the employee’s request for gender-affirming facial surgery.
In November, the state settled, agreeing to remove the blanket ban on facial surgery exclusions, cover the surgery and pay the employee $45,000.
Members of the Senate and Assembly passed the bill on party-line votes with Republicans in opposition. The Nevada Republican Party also opposed the bill ahead of its first hearing in the Legislature.
Asked about his decision to sign the bill, Lombardo said, “I implore people to read the bill … It's not as draconian or detrimental or immoral as people are portraying it to be.”
Scheible also successfully brought forward SB153, a bill to require gender-affirming health care and housing for transgender prisoners in the custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections. Lombardo signed the measure.
Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) also sponsored SB172, a bill that expands existing law allowing minors to consent to treatment and examination services for sexually transmitted infections to include preventative services and contraception. The measure passed out of the Senate and Assembly on largely party-line votes (Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) was the only Republican to vote in favor) and received the governor’s signature in June.
“We have been thrown in the middle of an unprecedented cultural war where our rights as citizens and our own belonging in society have been challenged,” said Sy Bernabei, the executive director of Gender Justice Nevada, at the June 20 press conference. “But here in the state of Nevada, we said no to that ignorance and bigotry.”
Though Lombardo bucked his party to sign a significant number of LGBTQ protection legislation into law, one bill he vetoed was SB302. It would have protected health care providers giving gender-affirming care from losing their medical license and prohibited the state’s executive branch from helping another state investigate a Nevada provider for offering gender-affirming care.
In his veto message, Lombardo cited concerns over providing gender-affirming care to minors. Harris and Scheible said they would consider introducing the bill again in future legislative sessions.
Supporters said SB302 would not remove existing parental consent laws and would not change the law surrounding minors consenting to medical treatment — meaning minors would still need parental consent for treatment. They emphasized that without the protections proposed under SB302, providers could leave Nevada leading to decreased access to gender-affirming care and potentially exacerbating the state’s provider shortage.
This session, the Legislature welcomed its first-ever LGBTQ caucus chaired by Harris , who said in a press release that the caucus’ goal is to “send the message to LGBTQ Nevadans that you are welcome, safe, and represented here.”
Other bills addressing LGBTQ communities that moved forward included a measure to make name changes on a marriage certificate easier.
— Tabitha Mueller
Cities moved to change their charters — with rural communities faring better than urban ones — and county commissioners failed to gain more power during the 2023 legislative session.
Critics said the current at-large system did not represent Reno residents and expressed concerns that the council had not consulted the public more prior to bringing the bill to the Legislature.Others said at-large positions were biased by nature and brought Reno’s charter to pre-Voting Rights Act times.
SB184, which would have created two additional wards in North Las Vegas, bringing the total number of seats on the city council to six, died before getting any votes in the Assembly. That came after the city testified in opposition to the idea and Gov. Joe Lombardo vowed to veto the measure.
Bill sponsor Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) said the bill would increase transparency and diversity. However, North Las Vegas Mayor Pamela Goynes-Brown — who defeated Spearman in the city’s mayoral race last fall — testified in opposition, saying she would rather not spend an estimated $1.2 million within the first year of the bill’s implementation on politicians.
Though both the Senate and Assembly passed SB20 — a bill that creates a pathway for county commissioners to appoint members to fill a vacancy, a power that is currently reserved for the governor — Lombardo vetoed the bill.
In his veto message, the governor called SB20 “general overreach intended to upset the established balance between Nevada’s county commissions and the Executive Branch’s appointment authority.” He also said the current law provides sufficient checks and balances to deter malfeasance between the executive branch and county commissions.
Sen. Dina Neal’s (D-North Las Vegas) SB246, which would have created a workforce development program in North Las Vegas and revised procedures between the North Las Vegas Charter Committee and the city council, spurred debate between Neal and Assemblywoman Clara Thomas (D-North Las Vegas) during a committee hearing.
Thomas raised concerns about sections of the bill requiring the charter committee to report “abuses of authority” by the council or city manager to the director of Legislative Counsel Bureau and giving the state attorney general the authority to bring civil action against the city clerk.
Thomas said the proposal “besmirched” the city clerk and reeked of retaliation.
Neal agreed to amend the bill to remove some of the provisions, but retained parts including required ethics training for charter committee members.
Though SB246 passed through the Assembly and Senate, the governor vetoed the bill.
Meanwhile, Carson City successfully updated its city charter through SB16, allowing its mayor pro tem to fill the mayor’s seat and serve out that term provided there is a vacancy.
Lombardo signed SB22, which alters a requirement that local governments post legal notices in a regularly circulating print newspaper to allow for publication on the paper’s website.
SB41, a bill requiring lawmakers to study child welfare funding and the decreases in Medicaid reimbursements, and suggest solutions, died before it got a vote on either the Assembly or Senate floor.
SB21, which was signed by the governor, would allow certain smaller counties to continue to combine the responsibilities of different departments into a single, consolidated office or disburse the duties among other departments within the county. AB47, which also became law, would allow counties to establish off-highway vehicle trail networks near highways.
— Carly Sauvageau
Lawmakers and Gov. Joe Lombardo this session approved the largest pay raises for state employees in decades — ranging from 10 percent to 13 percent in the fiscal year beginning in July, followed by raises of more than 11 percent in the following fiscal year — amid concerns over high vacancy rates and hiring difficulties plaguing state agencies.
A spokesperson for AFSCME, the largest union representing state workers, described the employee pay bill (AB522) in a June press release as the “most significant investment in state employees in Nevada history.”
Lombardo also signed into law his own sweeping government modernization bill (SB431), although it was pared down from the version he originally proposed. The measure overhauls state hiring practices, creates 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 raises the cap on an emergency state savings account.
During a signing ceremony, Terry Reynolds, the director of the Department of Business & Industry, described SB431 as “probably the most significant change in the executive branch for the last 25 years.”
Early in the session, lawmakers moved quickly in response to Lombardo’s call to boost state employee pay, approving a bill (AB268) in early April that granted a pair of $500 quarterly bonuses to the vast majority of state employees, about 25,000.
In the final version of the state employee pay bill, Democratic lawmakers pushed forward a slightly different compensation package than the one originally sought by Lombardo, as the two sides clashed over the contours of that package.
The approved pay increases were higher than Lombardo’s proposed cost-of-living raises of 8 percent to 10 percent in the coming fiscal year starting in July followed by a raise of 4 percent the next year. Meanwhile, an additional 7 percent raise included in the state employee pay bill for the second year of the coming biennium took effect after Lombardo vetoed AB498, a Democrat-backed bill that would have trimmed in half the size of employees’ retirement contributions and instead shifted more of the burden for contributions onto state agencies. The other 7 percent increase was contingent upon the failure of AB498.
Still, pay for unionized state employees proved to be a major tension point.
The dichotomy was evident in a party-line vote in early April on a Democrat-backed Senate bill (SB440) that would have allocated funding for awards the Nevada Police Union and AFSCME won last year through arbitration.
Lombardo vetoed that bill in June, describing the act of granting “retroactive non-binding arbitration awards” as a “perverse” incentive regarding employee pay.
Still, he signed into law SB510, a bill funding collective bargaining agreements for the upcoming two-year budget period for a handful of state worker unions, though he had voted against approval of those agreements last month, drawing backlash from the Nevada Police Union.
Outside of employee pay, the Legislature passed and Lombardo approved AB376, a bill to provide state workers with paid family leave of 50 percent pay for eight weeks. That builds upon federal law requiring unpaid family leave.
— Sean Golonka
Gov. Joe Lombardo did not succeed in advancing a pair of proposed tax reductions, including proposals to temporarily suspend the state’s gas tax — a 23-cent-per-gallon levy on all motor fuel that drivers pay when fueling up at gas stations — and to raise the threshold at which the Commerce Tax on annual gross business revenue kicks in from $4 million to $6 million.
Democratic lawmakers also did not move forward with their counterproposal to the gas tax suspension in the form of SB403, a bill that would have allocated $250 million to the DMV for providing discounts on the governmental services tax — a minimum $16 fee applied to vehicle registration.
Meanwhile, lawmakers did not consider any major proposals to substantially overhaul or increase taxes (Lombardo promised to not raise taxes), as recent high-performing state tax revenues have ballooned by upward of 20 percent in the past two years, resulting in a massive $2 billion-plus budget surplus.
Prior to the session, the surge in revenue triggered an automatic reduction to the Modified Business Tax rate, which applies to wages businesses pay workers. The reduction, required by state law, cut the payroll tax rate from 1.378 percent to 1.17 percent for general businesses. Pro-business groups supported the reduction and Lombardo’s proposed change to the Commerce Tax threshold as ways to lower the cost of doing business.
Lawmakers also considered several changes to property tax rates, with a particular focus on how those changes could affect housing affordability. In March, lawmakers heard a bill (SB68) that would have raised real property transfer taxes to boost the supply of supportive housing for people with disabilities or mental illness, but the measure drew opposition from the politically powerful Nevada REALTORS and did not receive a vote. Another bill, SB430, would have authorized partial property tax refunds to those 66 and older, but also did not receive a vote.
This session also saw a slew of bills aimed at tweaking tax exemptions, including a bill (AB448) from Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) intended to close a loophole that has allowed major real estate transactions on the Las Vegas Strip to avoid paying the Real Property Transfer Tax. Lombardo signed that measure, meaning companies will not be able to avoid paying the tax on such transactions.
Amid concerns from some Democratic lawmakers about the long-term stability of state tax revenue — heavily reliant on the sales tax — the session also saw measures aiming to study wealth taxes in the interim (ACR5) and to modernize the tax base by defining certain digital goods for taxation purposes (SB396), though the resolution and bill each failed to advance.
— Sean Golonka
This session, Native leaders hoped to facilitate more engagement between lawmakers and tribal communities. They succeeded in garnering funding to construct a new school on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation and passing a bill that would collect better records on missing and murdered Indigenous people.
Only one of the major bills Native leaders called for, SB94, failed to move forward. The legislation would have required each state agency to employ a tribal liaison to improve relationships between the tribes and the agency. The bill passed out of its first committee but died without receiving a floor vote in the Senate.
But advocates successfully pushed for and passed AB73, a bill establishing the right of public school students to wear traditional tribal regalia or other recognized objects of cultural or religious significance at school graduation ceremonies.
AB516 also succeeded. The measure establishes the Department of Native American Affairs, which consists of the Nevada Indian Commission, an executive director of the department and the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum. Previously, the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs oversaw the Nevada Indian Commission and the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center.
Though a proposal from Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks), AB273, to allocated funds for a new Owyhee Combined School failed, a different bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) passed through the Legislature and received the governor’s signature. That measure, AB519, provides almost $65 million for a new school on tribal land to replace one sitting over toxic hydrocarbon plumes, and requires Elko County to apply more property tax revenue to school buildings.
The governor also signed AB125, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas), that requires local law enforcement agencies to accept reports of adults who are missing under suspicious circumstances from a Native American reservation or colony, and enter that information into national databases.
Under AB84, a bill proposed by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), members of Nevada tribes now have free annual access to state parks and recreational areas.
During the 2021 legislative session, Assemblywoman Natha Anderson (D-Sparks) sponsored a bill offering tuition waivers for Native American students. This session, the governor signed AB150, Anderson’s bill funding and expanding the tuition waiver for Native Americans to cover summer and winter semesters and people who are new residents of the state.
— Tabitha Mueller