CARSON CITY — Nevada lawmakers are picking up the pace, trying to jam hundreds of bills through committees before an approaching deadline turns their pet legislation into pixie dust.
While many bills have been granted exemption from the looming deadline, others must pass out of the committee of origin by Friday or die.
Bills dealing with everything from education to mental health, guns and various tax-related measures await lawmakers when the 10th week of the Nevada Legislature begins Monday.
Here are five things to know about the upcoming legislative agenda:
The Nevada Constitution prohibits using public money for sectarian purposes. Two years ago, Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed a constitutional amendment allowing taxpayer money to be used for vouchers at K-12 religious schools. That measure died in committee without a hearing.
This year Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly are championing the measure. Senate Joint Resolution 10 would amend the constitution by declaring that any money used for school vouchers “shall be deemed not to be used for any sectarian purpose,” even if used to attend a school run by a religious organization.
It would have to be approved by lawmakers this year and in 2015 and then ratified by voters to go into effect, making its prospects questionable. But at least the bill will get a hearing. The Senate Education Committee takes it up Monday.
Sandoval, meanwhile, has a Plan B for school vouchers. Senate Bill 445, dubbed the Nevada Education Choice Scholarship Program, will be heard Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Revenue and Economic Development.
Instead of using taxpayer money to fund vouchers, it seeks to encourage businesses to donate money to a scholarship organization. Those organizations would then provide grants to children whose families meet income eligibility requirements to attend a school of their choice. Grants could also be used for home school programs.
In exchange for donations, businesses would receive tax credits from quarterly payroll taxes.
WASHOE SCHOOL TAX
Washoe County School District officials will be keeping their fingers crossed Tuesday, when the Assembly Taxation Committee is poised to vote on Assembly Bill 46. The bill would authorize Washoe County school trustees to implement a one-time hike in sales and property tax rates to fund maintenance and security upgrades at aging schools.
The approach is novel. As initially written, the measure would have required Washoe County commissioners to raise the county sales tax rate by a quarter percentage point and add a nickel to the property tax rate. But because it was a tax hike being mandated by the Legislature, it also would have required a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and Assembly to pass — an iffy bet at best.
So instead it was rewritten as “enabling” legislation, leaving the deed of raising taxes to the School Board.
After years of budget cuts, Democrats have made education a top priority . On Wednesday, a cornerstone of that agenda comes up for a committee vote. Senate Bill 182 would expand full-day kindergarten to all schools around the state.
The bill is before the Senate Education Committee and if endorsed there will likely be referred to Senate Finance because of the estimated $71 million price tag.
Sandoval’s original $6.5 billion general fund budget proposal included $20 million to expand all-day kindergarten to more at-risk schools. Last week he announced he’ll add another $10 million toward the effort, thanks to budget savings in other areas.
Democrats maintain that’s not enough.
MENTAL HEALTH AND GUNS
There have been a lot of hearings nationally and in the Nevada Legislature over mental health and gun control. On Tuesday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hear Senate Bill 277, sponsored by Sen. Ben Kieckhefer.
The Reno Republican said a lot of people diagnosed with mental health problems aren’t being included in a national database used to check the backgrounds of gun buyers. He points to statistics that show the number of court-ordered involuntary admissions to the state’s two public psychiatric hospitals is much lower than the number of cases referred and granted by the courts.
Over the past two years, he said, petitions were filed seeking the involuntary commitment of 4,700 people determined to be a danger. Of those, only a fraction resulted in court-ordered commitments, a step that triggers a listing in the national database.
His bill would close that loophole and require reporting when petitions for involuntary commitment are filed.