Rumors of a divide between progressive and moderate members of the Assembly Democratic caucus are overblown, freshman Democratic Assemblyman Howard Watts said, while expressing disappointment at the failure of high-profile bills, including an immigration bill that died on Tuesday’s deadline.
On this week’s episode of the IndyMatters podcast, Watts said that Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly were still working peacefully on major issues, though his focus over the first 80 days has been on passing more in-the-weeds measures related to voting rights, manufactured homes and water rights.
In particular, Watts said he was disappointed to see the death of AB281, which would have prevented law enforcement agencies from putting an immigration hold on a person in a jail, unless there’s probable cause that the person committed a crime. The bill was passed out of committee but was placed on the chief clerk’s desk on April 16 and never came up for a vote, amid a campaign by Nevada Republicans deriding it as a “sanctuary state” bill.
Watts, a co-sponsor of the bill, disagreed with assertions by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson that the law would not have changed any practices by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, saying it was important to ensure the policy was backed up by state law.
“I don't think that just because enacting a law doesn't change how things are going that it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth pursuing,” he said. “Because again if we don't codify that as the standard then the practices can change.”
Watts ran on a $15 an hour minimum wage, but said he was satisfied with the pending minimum wage bill AB456, which would raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour or $11 with health insurance by 2023.
“Of course I campaigned on wanting to get to a $15 minimum wage, so yes I’d like to see it higher,” he said. “I’m still extremely happy that that bill is moving forward. We need to increase our minimum wage and you know, at the end of the day we need to come up with something that we can get through the process.”
Asked if there was a “watered-down” minimum wage increase that he wouldn’t support, Watts said that he would support any increase because not supporting one just because it wasn’t what he wanted “would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
The freshman Democrat also downplayed any tensions between moderates and progressives in the Assembly Democratic Caucus, which has 29 members and 11 freshmen members.
“I don't think there is any clear dividing line,” he said. “If you asked me to name, who are the progressive legislators in our caucus, I don’t know how I’d answer that. I could potentially narrow it down to a smaller group or say that it’s every single member of our caucus.”
Although much attention has been paid toward big-ticket items such as raising the minimum wage or requiring paid sick leave for private employers, Watts said he wanted to use his bills to focus on more specific issues and not be repetitive.
“So what I really did is I tried to hone in on my areas of passion and expertise,” he said.
Three of Watts’s bills were voted on during first passage, including AB137, which would require city or county election clerks to continually establish polling places on Indian reservations without a tribe having to request it every election. The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly.
Watts is also the primary sponsor of AB163, which would revise the standards for requirements for conservation of water as well as for plumbing in new buildings. The bill passed on a 28-12 party-line vote.
One of Watts’s bills that didn’t make it through first passage was AB249 which would create land banks out of abandoned properties that could then be put back into use. Land banks are bodies of land that can be held for future use such as development, farming or dumping.