Without the normal pomp and circumstance, the 81st Legislature gaveled in on Monday for a session defined by and largely focused on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Legislators wrapped up the largely procedural work of the session’s first day — swearing in lawmakers, adopting rules and agreeing to fund the cost of the state’s biennial Legislature — but without the normal celebratory trappings of the first day.
Signs of the COVID-19 pandemic remained unmistakably present throughout the building — plexiglass panels aplenty, hand sanitizer dispensers located throughout the building and everyone, from staff to elected officials, wearing a mask or another kind of face covering.
But unlike last summer’s special sessions, where the building remained essentially empty save for year-around staff, lawmakers and a handful of reporters, Monday brought more activity and bustle inside the actual building because of the several hundred temporary staff hired for the 120-day session.
And outside of a color guard presentation, none of the normal pomp and circumstance around the first day of session was present — no families of legislators, no live music performance of the state song and an invocation delivered via Zoom.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) called for a moment of silence for the victims of COVID-19 during his first speech to the Legislature, saying that the pandemic “has clearly shown us a widening gap of haves and have-nots that cannot be ignored.”
“For anyone who was struggling prior to the start of the pandemic, they are in desperate circumstances,” he said. “COVID-19 has exposed the deep cracks we have continued to put bandaids on and we simply must do better.”
No committee meetings were scheduled for the first day, which is typical. Those are set to start on Tuesday, but virtually, with lawmakers appearing via videoconference instead of convening in the same room with their peers.
Legislators did vote unanimously to approve $15 million in funding for the legislative session (through SB1), and also adopted a handful of other procedural resolutions, including adoption of the rules governing the Assembly and Senate.
Lawmakers, staff and media who were allowed in the Legislative Building were asked to take a rapid COVID-19 test at a makeshift testing clinic set up inside a parking garage near the entrance or they had to provide documentation that they had both doses of the vaccine.
Outside the building, a group of about 50 protesters played loud rock music, marched on the sidewalk outside the Capitol and carried Trump campaign and “Stop the Steal” signs. Through a bullhorn, one speaker chanted against “taxation without representation,” accused the media of lies and led participants in a chorus of “freedom!”
Gov. Steve Sisolak, who was the subject of some of the protesters’ criticism, issued a statement calling for cooperation during the legislative process. Perhaps lawmakers’ most important task will be vetting and adjusting the $8.7 billion budget proposal Sisolak released last month.
“There’s nothing traditional or customary about fighting through and emerging from a global pandemic, catastrophic personal and financial consequences, business shutdowns, and what continues to be unknown territory,” he said. “To meet this historic moment, we must commit to work together and focus on legislation that creates jobs, provides immediate assistance and long-term recovery, and improves outcomes for all Nevadans.”