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Congress | Coronavirus | Government | IndyBlog

State bankers call for patience in standing up new small business loan program

April 3rd, 2020 - 4:00pm

A new Small Business Administration program launched Friday to lend $350 billion to businesses around the nation to help them meet payroll expenses amid coronavirus-related shutdowns may take time to ramp up, according to Phyllis Gurgevich, president and CEO of the Nevada Bankers Association.

“Be patient,” Gurgevich said in an interview, adding that banks are doing their best to help as many customers as possible in the shortest amount of time.

She said banks are, at times, having trouble getting their loans into the SBA system for approval.

“The challenges vary by bank,” she said.

Other banks are taking longer to review the SBA’s initial guidance released Friday officially launching the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was signed into law last week.

The public has 30 days from today to comment on the rules governing the program, advocate for changes or point out any unintended consequences.

“Sheer volume won’t be the only reason the program will take time to implement,” Gurgevich continued said in a release. “Financial institutions still need guidance from federal agencies and regulators to move forward with PPP loans.”

Lenders who already participate in the SBA 7(a) loan program, the agency’s general small business loans program, are approved to provide loans under the PPP. About 1,800 banks participate in the SBA 7(a) program. Other lenders will also participate in the program once getting approved by the SBA.

In Nevada, there are more than 60 banks that have experience with the 7(a) program, according to SBA loan activity between October 2017 through June 2018. 

During that time frame, the Bank of Nevada had the largest portfolio of SBA 7(a) loans totaling more than $16 million over 35 loans. Meadows Bank had 12 loans worth more than $12 million, and Wells Fargo was third with 63 loans totaling just over $12 million. U.S. Bank had the highest number of loans, 67 totaling more than $6 million.

PPP is the second SBA program being used to aid in recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Last month the White House made available up to $50 billion under its economic injury disaster loan program.

The new law also provides enhanced unemployment benefits that include providing an additional $600 per week in benefits for up to four months and extending benefits for 13 weeks beyond the 26 weeks offered in Nevada. Guidance from the Department of Labor is expected soon.

Disclosure: The Nevada Independent has applied for a loan from the Small Business Administration.

Environment | IndyBlog

State agencies call Trump rollback of emission standards ‘unfortunate step backward’

April 3rd, 2020 - 1:36pm

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Governor’s Office of Energy released a joint statement Friday criticizing the Trump administration’s decision to undo Obama-era vehicle emission standards.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration completed a federal rulemaking process to roll back fuel efficiency standards approved during the Obama administration. The Obama rule required car manufacturers to average 54 miles per gallon by 2025 for their fleets. The new Trump rule reduces that fuel efficiency standard to 40 miles per gallon.

The state agencies said the new rule was a setback for efforts to address climate change, in addition to costing drivers more at the gas station.

“With transportation-related emissions now representing the greatest share of greenhouse gases in Nevada, the administration’s decision to roll back clean car standards is an unfortunate step backwards,” the statement said. 

On Friday, Attorney General Aaron Ford tweeted that his “office couldn’t agree more.”

The Trump administration’s action to reduce one of the Obama administration’s major efforts to tackle air pollution and climate change comes as states across the country have turned their attention to addressing an acute public health crisis: the coronavirus.

Brian Beffort, who directs the Sierra Club’s Toiyabe Chapter, said in a statement that “the Trump Administration should be ashamed for exploiting the cover of a pandemic to roll back the clean car standards, which are crucial public health safeguards.”

“As families face a growing health and economic crisis, Donald Trump and [EPA Administrator] Andrew Wheeler’s action endangers communities, exacerbates the climate emergency, and takes money out of people’s wallets,” he added.

The Trump administration has argued that the rule will make cars more affordable, even after factoring increased fuel costs. The New York Times reported that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the new rule meant “millions of new vehicles will be more affordable to consumers, more will be sold, and this will be good for the economy, as well.”

Elections | IndyBlog

Group trying to recall Sisolak far short of required signatures halfway through signature-gathering period

April 2nd, 2020 - 7:18pm

A group that seeks to recall Gov. Steve Sisolak has a fraction of the signatures it needs to trigger a vote to remove him from office.

The Nevada secretary of state’s office reported that “Fight for Nevada,” the group that filed the recall petition, had 15,897 signatures statewide by the halfway point in the signature-gathering period. It needs about 243,995 signatures by mid-May to qualify the petition.

Fight for Nevada gave the state notice in mid-February that it planned to launch the petition. The group’s website says the Democratic governor “has placed himself and his Office in an adversarial position against the majority of Nevada residents, and does not, in any way, represent Nevada values.”

The group’s list of grievances include Sisolak’s actions on gun control, abortion and water well metering.

The signature threshold reflects 25 percent of the 976,320 people who voted in Nevada’s 2018 general election.

Environment | IndyBlog

Fish and Wildlife Service denies Endangered Species Act protection for bi-state sage grouse

March 30th, 2020 - 12:10pm

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied Endangered Species Act protection for the bi-state sage grouse, an iconic bird that roams western Nevada and eastern California, according to a document filed on the Federal Register website Monday. 

In its decision, the wildlife service said that given existing and future conservation commitments, the bi-state sage grouse did not meet the threshold for a “threatened” species listing. The denial for legal protection under the Endangered Species Act comes two years after a judge forced the agency to revisit a similar decision in 2015, ruling that the agency had erred.

Environmental groups said on Monday that voluntary conservation efforts have been inadequate in preventing a long-term decline of the bi-state sage grouse, a distinct population segment of the Greater sage grouse, found across the state and known for its elaborate mating dance. 

“Voluntary conservation projects over the past decade have been ineffective at turning around population declines, and fail to address the key threats facing this isolated population,” Laura Cunningham, the California director of Western Watersheds Project, said in a statement. 

The decision affects a specific population of sage grouse that live along the border of western Nevada and eastern California. Although the area is largely rural, the species face a number of pressures, including habitat conversion, grazing, wildfire and drought. 

In 2015, the Obama administration also denied proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the species after a working group secured $45 million in conservation funding. 

According to a 2018 report, conservation efforts from the Bi-State Local Area Working Group, created in 2002, include the use of easements, wildfire restoration and the targeted removal of pinyon and juniper trees in areas with known sage grouse habitat, a controversial practice.

Tony Wasley, the director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said state wildlife managers supported the decision not to list the bi-state sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

“The bi-state sage grouse conservation model is the epitome of collaborative science-based conservation,” Wasley said in a statement included in a Fish and Wildlife Service press release. “Our department supports this decision, and I’m grateful to have another chance to showcase this conservation story.”

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Congress | Government | IndyBlog

Cortez Masto concerned about Nevada gamers getting loans under proposed bill

March 23rd, 2020 - 7:00pm

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto remains hopeful that a bipartisan deal can be reached on the third bill to respond to the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus, but she’s concerned about the state’s hospitality industry getting a portion of funds that would be overseen by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

As the $1 trillion-plus bill is currently written, about $500 billion in loans would be provided to businesses with over 500 employees. The funds would be directed by Mnuchin and the administration would not have to report the recipients of the funds for six months. 

In a phone interview Monday, Cortez Masto believes that the bill gives too much discretion to the White House and that the lack of transparency could make it difficult for badly hurt Nevada industries such as casinos and hotels to receive loans. The provision could make it difficult for lawmakers to advocate for industries in their state.

“It was money that was going to go to the secretary, without any parameters for how and who it should go to,” Cortez Masto said of the provision in the bill. “And not only that, we wouldn’t know which businesses or corporations sought loans because there was no transparency, we wouldn’t know for six months, who the secretary decided those loans should go to.”

The Nevada Democrat believes that adding parameters on how the funding can be distributed or spent would help ensure the money goes where it can be the most effective.

“I want to make sure our gamers and our industry that really provides not only the economic engine for our state, but provides employment for so many people in the state of Nevada, including small businesses and vendors, and individual workers, that we can access those funds as well,” Cortez Masto said.

Other concerns she and Democrats have with the package, known as phase three, include no direct funding for states, which can also apply for the Mnuchin loans. They also want to add $25 billion to the $75 billion included for hospitals not enough funding for hospitals.

Negotiations on the package are ongoing despite two failed Senate votes after Democrats refused to provide the support required to clear Senate procedural hurdles without a deal in hand. Senate Republicans argued that Democrats were using the crisis for political gain. 

Nevertheless, Cortez Masto said she remains upbeat on the prospects for a deal this week.

“I’d be shocked if we can’t reach a deal because we are so close on everything else,” she said citing agreement on funding for small businesses and an expansion of unemployment insurance.

The senator added that the entire delegation is working together to make sure the state gets the support it requires. 

“We are all working together to ensure that Nevada gets the resources it needs to stop the spread of this coronavirus, to treat those who need medical attention and address the economic needs of our struggling families and businesses,” Cortez Masto said.

Election 2020 | IndyBlog

Schwartz releases first television ad in campaign for 3rd Congressional District

March 20th, 2020 - 11:09am

Former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz went up on Friday with his first television ad in his campaign for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.

The 30-second spot, titled “Now It’s Time,” details Schwartz’s background as a veteran, businessman, and state treasurer. It also highlights how he sounded the alarm about electric car company Faraday Future, which the Legislature planned to give hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives to before the company abandoned its plans to build a factory in North Las Vegas.

“As state treasurer, Dan Schwartz exposed a government scheme saving taxpayers millions.  He’s been called an outsider and a maverick,” the ad says. “Now, it’s time to call Dan Schwartz our Congressman.”

The ad is running on cable in the Las Vegas market, and is the first ad in a buy that will run through primary day in June. His campaign did not specify how much money is backing the ad buy.

Schwartz, who lost the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2018 former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, is seeking to oust Democratic Rep. Susie Lee from her swingy, suburban House seat. But he faces a difficult Republican primary first, where he will go up against ex-professional wrestler Dan Rodimer, who was endorsed by former Attorney General Adam Laxalt and House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, and Mindy Robinson, a pro-Trump political commentator and actress.

He is the first candidate in the race announce a TV buy.

Watch the ad below:

Environment | IndyBlog

Federal regulators approve preliminary permit for Pyramid Lake hydropower energy storage project

March 19th, 2020 - 4:46pm

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a preliminary permit Thursday to build a new reservoir in the mountains above Pyramid Lake as part of an energy storage project. 

The commission’s approval comes despite environmental and cultural concerns that were expressed in comments from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, which manages most of the land where the project would be sited. The reservoir would be sited in the Lake Range, east of Pyramid Lake, in an area where there are traditional tribal gathering locations and burial sites.

The proposed pumped storage project, backed by Premium Energy Holdings, is one of several proposals in Nevada. Such projects could store solar energy that can be tapped when the sun is not shining. They use excess solar energy to pump water from a low reservoir — in this case Pyramid Lake — to a higher-elevation reservoir. When energy is needed, water from the upper reservoir would be released back to the lake, running through a tunnel and a powerhouse.

A similar plan at Walker Lake won a preliminary permit earlier this month.

Although the preliminary permit gives the company priority to develop the project, it does not give the company a license to build the project or access to conduct on-site studies without the tribe’s permission.

In a comment letter filed in November, the tribe said it was opposed to the project “due to the lack of consultation and coordination” with the company. The tribe, in its letter, listed numerous environmental concerns, from water rights to the impact on habitat for the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout, the endangered native cui-ui and bighorn sheep reintroduced to the Lake Range.

During the comment period for the preliminary permit, Premium Energy Holdings said it intended to work with the tribe, and that it would get permission from the tribe before conducting any on-site studies.

Congress | Government | IndyBlog

Congressional delegation urges lenders to keep Nevadans in their home amid economic strife

March 18th, 2020 - 4:00pm

Members of the state’s congressional delegation wrote to Nevada’s leading mortgage services Wednesday asking that they work with homeowners who lose their income as a result of the coronavirus containment measures to allow them to stay in their homes. 

“As leaders in the mortgage industry, we ask that you do everything in your power to assist individuals and families in Nevada who are impacted by the recent pandemic,” the letter said. “As Nevadans may face reduced hours, layoffs, social distancing, and quarantines, they may also encounter substantial financial burdens.”

“Importantly, should the issue arise, we would ask that you not initiate or finalize any legal foreclosure proceedings that would lead to a patient, impacted individual, or their family’s eviction during the pandemic,” the letter continued.

The Silver State is no stranger to economic hardship. In the throes of the Great Recession, a little over a decade ago, Nevada ranked among the states with the highest foreclosure rates.

Signed by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen as well as all House members, including Republican Rep. Mark Amodei—the letter comes after Gov. Steve Sisolak Tuesday ordered a 30-day shutdown of all non-essential businesses in the state.

States around the nation are taking similar actions to keep the virus, and the illness it causes, COVID-19, from spreading too quickly, thereby overwhelming the nation’s medical resources.

Containment efforts are expected to cripple the economy and companies big and small to lay off and furlough workers, who, in turn, will have difficulty paying the mortgages.

“If individuals have difficulty with future mortgage or other loan payments, we ask that you would work with those individuals to offer tailored solutions, which could include waiving fees and penalties or offering forbearance plans and loan modifications to help ensure that their financial wellbeing is taken care of,” the letter said. “We also ask that you consider offering assistance that would allow homeowners to remain in their homes after the economic shock is over.”

The letter is addressed to the top servicers in Nevada which are: Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America, Mr. Cooper, Ocwen Financial Corporation, Citi, US Bank Home Mortgage, Walter Investment Management, PHH Mortgage, and Quicken Loans.

The delegation also asked that lenders streamline documentation requests and paperwork burdens for affected borrowers because many will not have access to records from businesses that have been shuttered.

“Individuals recovering from COVID-19, or those who are impacted by the virus’s effect on the economy should not have to worry about foreclosures, late fees, negative credit reports, or any other financial burdens that may exacerbate the tremendous stress caused by this pandemic,” the letter said.

Environment | IndyBlog

Amodei introduces congressional legislation as Northern Nevada counties eye public lands proposals

March 12th, 2020 - 5:17pm

Rep. Mark Amodei introduced legislation Thursday that looks to advance several proposed Northern Nevada land bills, open federal public land to potential development, protect areas as wilderness and prohibit oil and gas leasing in the Ruby Mountains. 

For months, Amodei has floated the idea of putting together omnibus Northern Nevada land legislation with piecemeal proposals circulating in counties across his district. These proposals come as the military is looking to expand its holdings of federal land at Naval Air Station Fallon.

In a cover letter to stakeholders on Thursday, Amodei staffers argued that the proposed legislation could move with the military expansion, which is expected to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act, considered “must-pass legislation.” 

The draft legislation, submitted for introduction on Thursday, addresses federal public land in Douglas County, Lander County, Carson City, Pershing County and the city of Sparks. 

According to the cover letter, the legislation would open fewer than 50,000 acres of federal public land for potential development and conserve more than 450,000 acres through conservation provisions, including wilderness. The bill draft also includes language referring to a proposal from Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto to prohibit oil and gas leasing in the Ruby Mountains. 

Amodei’s legislation comes as other counties and jurisdictions, including Washoe County, are debating requests from Congress to change how federal land is managed in their jurisdictions.

There has been vocal public opposition to Washoe County’s most recent proposal, which would open thousands of acres for development. As introduced, Amodei’s legislation does not include Washoe County’s proposal, but the cover letter leaves open the possibility that it could be tacked onto the bill later in the process.

The cover letter said the congressman, who represents most of Northern Nevada, plans to introduce legislation with measures to mitigate the impact of the military’s proposed expansion of the Navy’s Fallon base. As part of the expansion, the Navy has looked to add about 600,000 acres of public land used by tribes, conservationists and ranchers. 

Update at 6:28 p.m. on Thursday, March 12: An original draft of this story said the bill was introduced on Tuesday. It was submitted for introduction on Thursday.

Education | IndyBlog

Nevada Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit Kevin Child filed against school district, fellow trustees

March 6th, 2020 - 11:43am

The Nevada Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit that embattled former school trustee Kevin Child lodged against the Clark County School District and four fellow board members more than a year ago.

The state’s high court signed an order dismissing Child’s appeal on Feb. 28, noting that it appears he “abandoned” the litigation after not submitting several documents.

“Respondent Clark County School District has filed a motion to dismiss the appeal based on the appellant’s failure to adhere to any of the filing deadlines,” the court order states. “Appellant has not responded.”

Child originally filed the 41-page lawsuit, which named 11 defendants, in September 2018 in Clark County District Court. The wide-ranging litigation accused them of defamation and conspiracy.

Clark County School District officials did not immediately return a request for comment. Child, when reached by phone, said he plans to re-file the lawsuit.

Child, who frequently questioned the district’s finances and had a tumultuous first term on the Clark County School Board of Trustees, ran for re-election in 2018 but lost to Irene Cepeda.

Education | IndyBlog

Nevada higher ed spent more than $700,000 on buyouts in 2019, NSHE counsel says

March 5th, 2020 - 5:46pm

UNLV made up for nearly half of all spending by Nevada colleges and universities on buyouts in 2019, shelling out roughly $347,000 on just six buyouts over the last calendar year. 

System General Counsel Joe Reynolds told the regents that such buyouts are often used to avoid costly legal fights for schools or school employees looking to part ways. The payments have become especially commonplace at UNLV, where spending on buyouts ballooned to more than $3 million over a two-year period.

Reynolds told the regents that, despite the large sum from UNLV, spending on buyouts was down about 65 percent from 2018, though he cautioned that it was not “an apples to apples comparison.”

Other buyout spending — which totaled roughly $713,000 — included $91,000 from UNR for four buyouts, $77,000 for three buyouts from CSN, $71,000 for two buyouts at TMCC, $25,000 for one buyout at Great Basin College, $40,000 for one at the Desert Research Institute, and another $60,000 for one buyout at system administration. There were no buyouts at either Western Nevada College or Nevada State College. 

“Let’s be real clear, none of the institutions really had a problem with this except for UNLV, just to be blunt,” System Chancellor Thom Reilly said.

Reilly added that, though the $3 million representing funding that could have flowed elsewhere, the reduction to $350,000 represented a marked improvement in spending trends. 

“I want to credit President [Marta] Meana on this because it’s not easy to start changing culture and start saying ‘no,’” Reilly said. 

Criminal Justice | IndyBlog | State Government

State grants pardon to Jon Ponder, founder of Hope for Prisoners re-entry program

March 4th, 2020 - 1:05pm

The Nevada Board of Pardons granted a partial pardon on Wednesday to Jon Ponder, who leads the post-prison re-entry organization Hope for Prisoners and hosted President Donald Trump at a program graduation event less than two weeks ago.

The state-level pardon, which addresses the repercussions of a handful of domestic violence incidents from 1994 to 2001, restores rights lost as a result of convictions but not Ponder’s right to bear arms. Gov. Steve Sisolak, a board member who began his speech by saying he didn’t want Ponder treated differently because of his “celebrity,” conditioned the pardon because “all domestic violence cases are major to me.” 

“If the rest of the board wants to go ahead and approve the Second Amendment — I cannot support that,” Sisolak said. “I just feel very, very strongly about this.”

Ponder’s lawyer, Kristina Wildeveld, had argued for a full pardon in part because it would allow Ponder’s wife to own a gun at her home if she wanted to. She also noted that two of Ponder’s brothers, who were the victims in some of the cases, testified in his favor.

Ponder gave an at-times tearful testimony to the board about how he was “atrociously addicted to everything known to man” and that it was “humiliating and embarrassing” to revisit his past actions. He said he has been clean and sober for 16 years.

“I want to first let Gov. Sisolak know that I heard him loud and clear. When he says that he hates domestic violence and it should not be tolerated, I feel the absolute same,” he said. “My actions actually break my heart, every morning when I look at my daughters and just to think that they would be subjected to that.”

Ponder’s wife of 10 years and brothers testified that he has turned his life around, and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson submitted a letter of support. Wolfson and Ponder have collaborated on a new “pre-entry” program in which participants plead guilty to charges but enroll in wraparound services as a condition of their probation instead of going to prison.

Ponder’s organization, which offers mentorship and life skills training and partners with a long list of businesses and community organizations for jobs and job training, has gained national attention and hosted high-ranking elected officials. On Feb. 20, Trump delivered a speech at a Hope for Prisoners graduation ceremony and hinted at a pardon for Ponder, who in addition to the state-level convictions also served time in federal prison.

Presidents have the authority to issue pardons for federal offenses, such as the robberies Ponder pleaded guilty to in 2005.

“We are giving him absolute consideration and I have a feeling he is going to get the full pardon,” Trump said.

After the speech, Ponder said he was surprised by the president’s comment.

“It feels very surreal because I had never really thought about getting a presidential pardon,” he said. “I have no words.”

Economy & Business | IndyBlog

Tina Quigley, former RTC head, leaving Nevada-California rail project

March 4th, 2020 - 12:32pm

Former Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) head Tina Quigley, who left her post in November after 14 years, says she’s leaving her new private sector job overseeing a massive, high-speed rail project between Las Vegas and Southern California after just five months.

Quigley said in a brief interview on Wednesday that she remains a strong believer in the project — a 170-mile, $4.8 billion high-speed train between Las Vegas and Victorville, California — but that her own personal interests and desire to remain involved in charitable and philanthropic interests led her to leave the project. 

“More and more I want to just focus on my philanthropy and other endeavors in Southern Nevada,” she said.

Quigley left the RTC and joined up with Virgin Trains USA in November 2019 as the company’s vice president of business strategy and to help plans for the high-speed bullet train. Quigley previously told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that construction on the project could begin as early as the third quarter of 2020 but that work in Las Vegas would likely not begin until mid-2021.

She said on Wednesday that her main priorities would be her involvement in philanthropic efforts, including chairing the Desert Research Institute Foundation and membership on the boards of the Fulfillment Fund of Las Vegas and the Nevada International Women’s Forum, as well as helping with future transportation infrastructure projects in Southern Nevada.

Quigley said she’s retired as a government employee, but wasn’t closing the door on future private sector opportunities should they arise. 

IndyBlog | Legislature

Brenda Erdoes, 40-year veteran of Legislative Counsel Bureau, chosen as agency’s director

February 28th, 2020 - 4:53pm

Nevada lawmakers have selected longtime Legislative Counsel Bureau employee Brenda Erdoes to lead the agency, which offers nonpartisan staff support for the Legislature including audits, research and drafting bills.

The Legislative Commission voted Wednesday to approve Erdoes as LCB director and publicly announced the decision on Friday. The appointment comes after former director Rick Combs retired from the post in January after almost a decade of service.

Erdoes was most recently the top-ranking lawyer for the LCB and has worked for the agency for 40 years. She is the first woman appointed to the role as director.

Republican Sen. James Settelmeyer said in his motion to approve her selection that the committee “found the hardest working, smartest person that I know of in this building and the best-qualified person for the position.”

Lawmakers had interviewed five candidates for the role.

Health Care | IndyBlog | State Government

At second meeting of drug pricing committee, experts call for the creation of a long-term price oversight commission

February 28th, 2020 - 3:01pm

A representative of the Culinary Health Fund asked the Legislature’s interim prescription drug pricing committee on Friday to create a long-term commission focused on monitoring prescription drug prices. 

Bobbette Bond, the director of health policy for the fund, emphasized to the Committee to Conduct an Interim Study Concerning the Cost of Prescription Drugs the complicated nature of drug pricing policies, suggesting it would be better to have a commission constantly studying the issues and focused on creating policy, rather than an interim committee that has to be re-educated every legislative session in order to draft bills.

“Our big hope is that the result of this incredible study that you have a chance to do is to recognize the complications of all of these issues,” Bond said. “We really want to propose some sort of price commission that’s looking at what happens to prices over the long haul instead of every 120 days, every 2 years where you have to do all this work with no expertise, and have to be in hyperdrive to understand the idea of a rebate.”

Additionally, Bond spoke to the importance of transparency in drug pricing and how drug companies calling prices a “trade secret” complicates the process of regulating costs. She also emphasized that even when prices are reduced for consumers, if legislation doesn’t reduce the overall pricing of a medication, that cost is merely shifted to a health plan or insurance company.

The Culinary Health Fund is a non-profit that serves more than 130,000 union members and their dependents.

The interim committee met for the first time in January after being formed during the 2019 legislative session. At the first meeting, members heard from policy and drug pricing experts about the process of setting drug prices and policies other states have enacted to counter rising costs.

For the February meeting, eight experts brought a variety of perspectives and suggestions for potential policies, including a representative of AARP Nevada, the Association for Accessible Medicines and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

After the two meetings filled with testimony from patients and more than a dozen experts on the topic, committee members intend to shift their focus to bill draft requests for the 2021 legislative session.

The next meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 26.

Congress | IndyBlog

Anti-lynching bill co-sponsored by Horsford passes House at close of Black History Month

February 27th, 2020 - 2:00am

The House of Representatives voted almost unanimously on Wednesday to pass a bill co-sponsored by Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford that would classify lynching, or extrajudicial killings, as a federal hate crime for the first time in the country’s history.

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act was passed in the House with an overwhelming 410-4 vote just as Black History Month draws to a close. The measure was introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) in January 2019 and Horsford became a co-sponsor of the bill in August. 

“After more than 200 failed attempts in the last 120 years, the House of Representatives has succeeded in passing historic legislation to outlaw the heinous act of lynching,” Horsford said in a statement. “From Charlottesville to El Paso, we are still being confronted with the violent racism that led to the murder of Emmett Till. Today, with the passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, we are sending the message that we will not tolerate this hatred.”

The measure is named after the 14-year-old boy killed in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly making advances toward a white woman. The woman, Carolyn Bryant, admitted in 2007 that she had exaggerated her story about the interaction with Till. The boy was murdered by Bryant’s then-husband and brother-in-law, who were acquitted at trial by an all-white jury.  

The four votes against the bill were Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert (Texas), Thomas Massie (Kentucky) and Ted Yoho (Florida), as well as Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan. 

According to the Dallas Morning News, Gohmert cited insufficient consequences as the reason he couldn’t support the bill and mentioned the crime should be prosecuted by state, not federal authorities. 

When Rep. Leonidas C. Dyer of Missouri introduced the first anti-lynching bill to pass the House 102 years ago, a filibuster killed it in the Senate, with lawmakers citing states’ rights. 

There are records of 4,743 people lynched in the U.S. from 1882 to 1968, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Horsford cited the statistic in his statement, saying “long-overdue justice” can finally be brought to victims who “died at the hands of bigotry and racism.” 

“This bill lays the foundation to combat the persistent ignorance and hatred that pervades our nation, we must and can do more to remedy these challenges,” he said. 

Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California echoed Horsford’s statement on the House floor on Wednesday, citing recent violence in Charlottesville and El Paso as ties to past, historical racial violence. Bass also talked about recent incidents of nooses found in workplace locker rooms and on college campuses to scare black people — “a vicious reminder that the past is never that far away,” she said. 

Community | IndyBlog

Census organizers trying to get schools more involved in census outreach

February 26th, 2020 - 2:00am

With a little more than a month until Census Day, the Washoe County School District unanimously passed a resolution to designate March 30 through April 3, as Census Days of Action in an effort to encourage participation in the 2020 Census and get schools more involved in facilitating the count. 

Irene Payne, chief communications and community engagement officer for the school district, and Alison Berreman, a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, brought the resolution to the school district board meeting on Tuesday as part of the state’s efforts to inform people about the importance of the population count. 

“Most generally, adopting this proclamation is just a public statement. It’s something that gives credibility to the process,” Berreman said in a presentation to the school board. “In the case of districts, we’re asking principals to talk about the census in their classroom.” 

Ruben Murillo, a member of Nevada’s Complete Count education subcommittee, presented with Berreman. He said passing the resolution entailed making the schools available to community members participating in the census, such as opening computer labs to those who needed to fill out the census questionnaire or hosting events related to the census.

Both Murillo and Berreman emphasized that having students learn about the census in school would help disseminate information to communities that may not have heard of the census.

Trustee Katy Simon Holland thanked the presenters for the opportunity the initiative provided to teach students about the census.

“We know how important this is not only to our school district but to our country, our residents and our state,” she said.

In a teleconference meeting on Tuesday, education subcommittee members noted they are proposing the same resolution in Clark County at Thursday’s school board meeting and plan to reach out to other school districts in Nevada.

One snag subcommittee members discussed surrounding the Census Days of Action is that eighth graders begin standardized testing the week of the proposed days of action, which could reduce access to computer labs in middle schools, but would not affect elementary or high schools. 

Subcommittee members also discussed the challenges of making school sites available for census activities because of staffing costs and the safety considerations around community members coming in close proximity to children.

Leonardo Benavides, a subcommittee member and coordinator of government relations at the Clark County School District, suggested narrowing the focus to schools in areas with hard to count populations.

“What I would ask firsthand from the census would be the specific areas that are specifically hard to count,” he said. “And then we can talk about the specific schools in those areas and be more specific in our outreach.”

March 12 is the first day people can begin to fill out the census questionnaire either online or by phone, and officials, including members of the education subcommittee, are still organizing and implementing events designed to increase participation in the census. Although some might be nervous that preparations are still underway, Brian Berman of the U.S. Census Bureau told the government subcommittee Tuesday that he is confident the count will turn out well.

“I want to reinforce to everyone that this is not like the caucus. We have four months to get the count,” he said. “We don’t need to panic and we have been preparing for more than a year now … and we are really, really excited about getting the best count Nevada’s ever had.”

Health Care | IndyBlog

Nevada joins 39-state investigation into vape company JUUL’s marketing practices

February 25th, 2020 - 10:21am

Attorney General Aaron Ford has joined a multi-state investigation into e-cigarette company JUUL Labs and is looking to “get to the bottom” of whether the company targeted youth or made misleading statements about whether the devices help people quit smoking.

The 39-state coalition’s investigation comes as public health practitioners have sounded the alarm over a precipitous rise in the youth vaping rate. It also comes amid a flurry of cases of vaping related illnesses and deaths.

“Preying on children and those looking for help to quit smoking is the one of the most despicable examples of risking people’s lives for corporate profit,” Ford said in a statement on Tuesday. “Anyone found risking the health and safety of Nevadans, especially our children, will answer for their deception.”

JUUL spokesman Austin Finan said the company’s customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers and it does not intend to attract underage users. JUUL, which is owned by the tobacco company Altria, also laid out a variety of actions it has taken in recent months.

“We will continue to reset the vapor category in the U.S. and seek to earn the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes,” Finan said in a statement. “As part of that process in the U.S., we are preparing comprehensive and scientifically rigorous Premarket Tobacco Product Applications, stopped the sale of flavored pods other than Tobacco and Menthol in November, halted our television, print and digital product advertising, implemented a $1 billion restructuring plan, and support the Administration’s final flavor policy.”

Ford said that as of earlier this month, there have been more than 2,700 hospitalizations for vaping-related lung illnesses nationwide — including seven in Nevada — and 64 confirmed deaths. 

To try to curb vaping, Nevada lawmakers authorized a tax on vaping products last year, and recently approved the first steps of a plan to spend $1.7 million in funds from a settlement with Johnson & Johnson toward the cause. Similar to what the state has done to address opioid overdoses, the plan calls for a statewide summit on vaping and cannabis to start developing a strategic plan for preventing youth use, a close analysis of data and a marketing campaign targeted to any Nevada-specific emerging trends.



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