Three vetoes are in the books. Could more derail the legislative session?

Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
LegislatureState Government

The Legislature’s special session doomsday clock has ticked a few minutes closer to midnight. 

Acrimony between Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo’s office and the Democrats in control of the Legislature has ballooned over the last few weeks. All five of the governor’s bills have stalled in committees, with just three receiving hearings and only one having received a vote. 

The Lombardo bill that has made the most progress, AB330 — a repeal of the state’s restorative justice law aimed at addressing school safety concerns — is now on the ropes, too. Senate Democrats announced their intent this week to either roll it into a similar Democrat-sponsored bill, or let it die. 

Then, on Wednesday, two shots across the bow. 

First, Lombardo vetoed three major gun control bills sponsored by Democrats. They are the first vetoes of the session and came just minutes before a scheduled press conference from Democrats and advocates designed to pressure Lombardo into signing those bills. 

Minutes later, his chief of staff, Ben Kieckhefer, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Steve Sebelius that the governor would “veto the state budget if his priorities aren’t passed.” 

Should Lombardo veto the state budget, the move could force an emergency special legislative session. 

The budget veto sword of Damocles has long hung over the heads of Democrat-majority Legislatures feuding with Republican governors. Gov. Kenny Guinn threatened such a veto over tax rebates in 2005, and Gov. Jim Gibbons made similar threats in 2007 and 2009 amid disputes over proposed tax cuts. In 2017, legislative Republicans and Gov. Brian Sandoval used the specter of a budget veto to try to push the voucher-like Education Savings Accounts program over the finish line.  

But such budget vetoes are exceedingly rare. Sandoval only partially vetoed the budget when he rejected the education spending bill in 2011. A Gibbons veto of the 2009 budget was overridden by lawmakers. The next nearest veto came from Democratic Gov. James Scrugham in 1925, according to the Legislature’s veto database

If the state budget isn’t finalized by the end of June, it has the potential to leave the state unable to pay employees, and state-run services could go unfunded. It could also run up against the timeline for the federal government to raise the debt ceiling, which would present other (mostly bad) issues. 

Treasurer Zach Conine said in an emailed statement he was “confident that the Legislature and the Governor will work together to pass a budget that prioritizes the needs of residents across our State.” He did not provide other details about what a veto of the state budget would mean for the state’s credit score or other financial commitments.

Kieckhefer did say during a press briefing in May that a balanced and responsible budget is the “single most important thing that we need walking out of this legislative session.”

“I think the governor has proposed that and if zero policy bills pass, from either party, and we pass a budget that does that, we think it’d be a good outcome,” Kieckhefer said.

In a statement to The Nevada Independent following the gun bill vetoes, Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) said he hopes the governor will assess each measure on its own merits regardless of who sponsored it.

“We continue to have an ongoing dialogue on a variety of issues, and I remain hopeful that there is a path forward,” Yeager added.

Though Lombardo’s team would not comment on what gubernatorial priorities needed to move forward to avoid a budget veto, a proposed Opportunity Scholarship increase and other key budget priorities are likely top of mind for the governor.

In January, however, Lombardo told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he would not use the “big hammer of veto” to ensure the Legislature approves his school choice legislation — namely that vast expansion of Opportunity Scholarships — and described a methodical approach to achieving greater school choice that included expansion of the more modest Opportunity Scholarships program.

“Outside of presenting the challenge to the Supreme Court, we do it through the budgeting process and available resources,” Lombardo said at the time. “In other words, you’re going to have to take small bites, until we can all get on the same shoes.”

Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.


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