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Press conference with Gov. Steve Sisolak, Speaker Jason Frierson, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Nevada State Superintendent Jhone Eberton revealing an education funding plan in Carson City on May 14, 2019. (Joey Lovato/The Nevada Independent)

Gov. Steve Sisolak says he doesn’t believe a proposed ballot question to create an independent redistricting commission would be truly independent, and he opposes the City of Las Vegas’s recently adopted homelessness ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor to camp in certain public areas.

In an interview with KLAS Channel 8 reporter Steve Sebelius that was posted online Thursday, Sisolak avoided taking a black-or-white position on the proposed ballot question to create a seven-member redistricting committee for the state, but raised concerns that the mere process of politicians appointing members to the commission would be political and raise questions about the commission’s independence. 

“I don’t think that it would be truly independent,” he said. “When you have appointees, it’s not independent, and that’s going to be a problem.”

Under the status quo, the Legislature does the work of drawing new boundaries for voting districts every ten years, giving them the power to grant an advantage to one political party or another through a process called gerrymandering. Sisolak is a Democrat, and Democrats control both houses of the Legislature. 

The proposed ballot measure, which is backed by the League of Women Voters and comes amid similar efforts in other states, already faces a lawsuit whose chief plaintiff is a pastor involved in Democratic politics. The complaint argues there is nothing to ensure appointees aren’t indirectly related to politics, or that the commission reflects the full diversity of the state in terms of race, gender, geography and other factors. 

Sondra Cosgrove, president of the League of Women Voters of Southern Nevada and a coordinator of the efforts, has pushed back on the lawsuit. She wrote on her Twitter account late Wednesday to counter claims that “Republicans have duped me into running the redistricting reform ballot question” and defended the suit last week .

“Every time an effort is made to level the playing field and bring equality to bear, there will be opposition from those that benefit from the status quo. This lawsuit is no different,” said Sondra Cosgrove, president of the League of Women Voters of Nevada, in a press release.

“Word is that Republicans have duped me into running the redistricting reform ballot question,” she wrote on Twitter. “Right, because I’m politically naive & I allow men to tell me what to do. Seriously, Democrats. My character is not up for debate & no one tells me what to do, ever.”

In order to qualify for the ballot, backers of the proposed ballot question must first gather signatures from at least 10 percent of voters who cast a ballot in the last preceding election (including an equal share in all four congressional districts), and then have the measure pass in subsequent elections. 

Sisolak also came out against a new ordinance in the City of Las Vegas that bars camping on public rights-of-way and carries fines and jail time.

“Arresting and ticketing homeless people I don’t think is the right way to go,” he said. “I can tell you our officers don’t want to be picking them up and putting them back in squad cars and taking them to the detention center.”

He said he wanted “to be more child-focused on this” and focus on “how is this going to affect the next generation,” saying that children who don’t have a place to sleep are likely to struggle in school.

He also said that the problem is multi-pronged, encompassing addiction, mental health and economic issues, and called for solutions that ensure people have the range of resources they need to be successful, from food and showers to jobs and phones. 

“I don’t think that this ordinance is going to solve the problem,” he said. “I think we need to take a more holistic approach.”

Sisolak also said he believed the state should beef up restrictions on the state’s 31 occupational licensing boards, and eliminate some altogether. The boards have drawn increased scrutiny amid reports of heavy spending on lobbyists, a decades-long failure of the Board of Pharmacy to fully process some background checks and a myriad of issues with the state dental board that led to multiple board members and staff resigning. 

He also weighed in on marijuana regulation in light of the apparent suspension of a Sparks marijuana testing lab’s license for inaccurate measurements of THC levels. Although Sisolak said it’s unclear whether the inaccuracies were intentional, he questioned the state’s system for testing the quality of marijuana. 

Sisolak acknowledged the process, which involves cultivators and production facilities paying independent laboratories to conduct testing on their products, could be influenced by relationships. For example, labs might tacitly agree to inflate THC readings for their customers, allowing production facilities to fetch a higher price for the product.

He said discussions on a solution are on tap once a new Cannabis Compliance Board is fully up and running next summer, but one possible solution is making laboratories a function of the state.

“We have to do something,” Sisolak said. “They have to be truly independent labs and unless they’re state-owned, I don’t know how you make them truly independent.”

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