School construction exempted from Nevada’s prevailing wage law

CARSON CITY— Wasting no time, Gov. Brian Sandoval on Friday signed into law a bill exempting school construction projects from Nevada’s prevailing wage law.

Senate Bill 119 saw final approval in the Assembly only on Thursday.

“Children across Nevada need more schools now, and our education system has limited resources to build them,” he said in a statement. “This narrowly tailored, extraordinary measure will allow school districts to stretch these limited resources as far as possible to meet an immediate need.”

The prevailing wage provisions of SB 119 bill were sought by Republicans as part of a school bond rollover bill.

The issues were bifurcated however, because of concerns from both Democrats and Republicans about different elements of the measure. Democrats opposed the prevailing wage exemption, while members of both parties expressed concern that the bond rollover for 10 years did not require a public vote. Taxes won’t rise under the provisions of the new law.

The stand-alone school bond rollover bill, Senate Bill 207, won final approval from the Assembly on Wednesday and was signed into law by Sandoval the same day.

On Thursday, the Assembly gave final approval to the prevailing wage exemption bill on a narrow, mostly party-line 23-19 vote.

Nevada’s prevailing wage law requires contractors who win publicly financed construction projects to pay workers according to a wage schedule established by the state’s labor commissioner. The original purpose of the law was to require local wage rates to be paid on public projects so that out-of-state competitors could not come in and undercut the local labor pool.

Democrats had opposed the measure over concerns construction jobs would go out of state, while most Republicans said it would allow scarce tax dollars to build more schools.

There is debate about how much will be saved on the school projects without requiring the prevailing wage.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said in previous testimony that even if it is only 5 percent, the exemption would mean $175 million more in construction projects in Clark County alone over the 10-year life of the rollover based on nearly $3.6 billion in bonding capacity. This savings would equal about six new elementary schools.

The separate school bond roll over bill signed by Sandoval on Wednesday will result in construction beginning on seven new “shovel ready” schools in the Clark County School District before the end of the session to open in the fall of 2017. Five more new schools will be built to open in 2018. The bill was praised by most Republicans and Democrats alike.

But Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who welcomed the school bond rollover bill, expressed dismay at Sandoval’s decision to sign the prevailing wage exemption bill.

“I’m sad,” she said in a comment on Twitter.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.

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