Senator says education is priority for Nevada Legislature

State Sen. Justin Jones said Wednesday that both Democratic and Republican lawmakers plan to make school construction and education funding a priority when the next legislative session convenes in February and approve new building quickly if possible.

Jones, D-Las Vegas, said GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval expressed support for the idea at last week’s special session when the Legislature unanimously approved $1.3 billion in tax breaks and incentives for Tesla so the electric car company can build a battery factory in the state.

Senate Democrats made a last-minute effort in the special session to approve rolling over school bonds for another two years so facilities can be built to relieve overcrowded classrooms in both Northern and Southern Nevada. The effort failed, but Jones said Republican lawmakers and Sandoval assured Democratic leaders that the issue will be among the most important in 2015.

“We could probably build several schools with the rollover,” Jones said during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board, explaining that there are tens of millions of dollars in bonding capacity.

Asked whether the Legislature could approve rolling over school bonds at the start of the session, Jones said he was optimistic GOP leaders and Sandoval would be willing to hurry legislation along.

“We are going to put that at the top of our priority list for February,” Jones said, adding that Senate Democrats had discussed the issue with the Sandoval administration and the governor.

“It’s not a Republican or Democratic thing,” Jones said. “It’s not a north-south thing. This is something that unites all of the state. It’s something that shouldn’t have much opposition, if any.”

Jones also said he detected GOP enthusiasm for boosting education funding, an issue that has divided the two parties in the past. Democrats have argued to raise taxes while Republicans have favored more targeted spending while cutting out bureaucratic waste.

“When it comes to the big-ticket issues, Senate Republican leadership has indicated they’re interested in working together on education funding,” Jones said. “If they’re serious about education funding and if the governor is serious about education funding, absolutely we’ll work together.”

Jones said he thinks Sandoval, who is expected to easily win re-election this year, will want to leave office having accomplished something to improve Nevada’s education system.

“I think the governor is going into his second term with an eye toward his legacy,” Jones said. “I feel the governor is going to want to do something meaningful to increase education funding.”

Despite his support for more educating spending, Jones said he opposes Question 3 on the Nov. 4 general election ballot to institute a 2 percent margins tax on businesses to fund education. The proposed tax would apply to companies making $1 million in revenue a year — whether or not a company is profitable. Opponents contend it could close businesses and cost jobs.

“I have some serious concerns,” Jones said. “I don’t think that an imperfect solution to an imperfect problem is the right way to go.”

Jones said another priority for lawmakers and the governor is improving the mental health system in Nevada, which doesn’t have a triage center to handle such people in need of help.

Jones said he also would try to pass gun legislation this next session. Sandoval in 2013 vetoed his bill that would have broadened background checks to include private sales of firearms.

Jones said Nevada courts lag in reporting cases to a national database that is checked when guns are sold by a federally licensed outfit. Felons, domestic violence offenders and people who have been deemed by a court to be mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others cannot buy guns. Jones said he wants to require court reporting to the database within five days, a provision that also was in his 2013 legislation.

Jones said 1 million lives have been saved nationally since the Brady gun background check system was approved. He said he doesn’t want to infringe on anyone’s Second Amendment rights.

“If someone wants to get a gun, they can get a gun,” Jones said. “But if you make it more difficult for folks who shouldn’t have a gun to get a gun, lives will be saved.”

Jones, a freshman, is running for re-election after barely winning the Senate District 9 seat by about 300 votes in 2012. Former Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, had resigned the seat. Jones’ opponent is Republican Becky Harris. The normal Senate term is four years.

Jones’ seat is one of three in the 21-seat Senate that could determine whether Democrats maintain control.

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