Updated January 28, 2021 - 9:12 pm
CARSON CITY — A Carson City judge has thrown out the lawsuits that sought to block a trio of mining tax proposals from advancing through the Legislature and possibly to voters in 2022.
Carson City District Judge James Wilson issued the written ruling Wednesday denying the lawsuits brought by several rural counties and Nevada Gold Mines.
The ruling means that, pending potential appeals to the state Supreme Court, Democrats in the upcoming legislative session can advance one or more of the three constitutional amendments they passed during a 2020 special session that would overhaul how mining companies in the state are taxed. Any of the measures that are passed in the upcoming session would be sent to Nevada voters on the 2022 ballot.
Wilson also said the court lacked jurisdiction since the proposed amendments were essentially halfway through the process.
Attorney Todd Bice from the law firm Pisanelli Bice said in a statement Thursday that due to the judge’s ruling, the merits of the case cannot be determined until after the upcoming legislative session should lawmakers pass one or more of the amendments.
“If that happens, Nevada Gold Mines will renew its challenge, including in a new case and the matter will ultimately have to be addressed by the Nevada Supreme Court,” Bice said. “In the meantime, Nevada Gold Mines will consider whether to appeal.”
Two of the amendments would increase the state’s tax revenues from mining nearly tenfold and differ only in that one would dedicate a portion of that revenue to education and health care programs while the other would go toward a dividend program that would directly pay Nevadans a small sum, similar to Alaska’s oil dividends program. The third plan, described as “an olive branch” to the mining industry, would increase the 5 percent net proceeds tax cap in the state constitution to a 12 percent cap.
The plans would bring in additional revenue to the state from $170 million to more than $500 million over the two-year budget period.
Attorneys representing the counties and Nevada Gold Mines did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Lander County filed the lawsuit in September challenging a trio of constitutional amendments passed by lawmakers during a special session in the summer that aim to increase taxes on mining companies. Other rural counties where mining is prevalent, including White Pine, Elko and Pershing, later joined the lawsuit, and the court consolidated a similar case filed by Nevada Gold Mines.
The lawsuit, with arguments made in a hearing held Jan. 15, focused on whether lawmakers were within their constitutional bounds to pass the proposed amendments during the special session, in part because the amendments were not explicitly included in the proclamation from Gov. Steve Sisolak convening the session.
“The offshoot of the Legislature’s nearly unlimited legislative power is that the Legislature possesses all of its legislative power at every legislative session,” Wilson wrote. “Thus, as a general rule, the power of the Legislature at a special session is as broad as its power at a regular session, unless there are express constitutional limitations to the contrary.”
Democratic legislative leaders lauded Wilson’s decision.
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, said in a statement that the lawsuit was “always legally dubious, and we’re pleased the district court agrees.”
“We look forward to having a robust conversation about revenue, including mining paying their fair share, during this upcoming session,” she added.
Added Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson in a statement, “I look forward to continuing to talk to stakeholders about how we can ensure Nevada families have the resources they deserve to move forward during this challenging time.”