CARSON CITY — With a near-supermajority in the Legislature and control of the governor’s office, Democrats hold nearly all the cards as the 2019 Legislative session begins Monday.
But Democratic leaders say they don’t plan to employ the sort of full-court progressive push that some might expect.
“I do believe we’ll have to do a yeoman’s job to temper some of our allies,” Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas, told the Review-Journal on Friday. “Some have this mentality that we have all three chambers, so let’s go after everything we haven’t been able to do in the last 25 years.
“I don’t think that’s good.”
The agenda and budget laid out by Gov. Steve Sisolak — who became the first Democratic governor in the state in two decades — reflects a bold progressive shift that could change Nevada.
Democrats tried to pass collective bargaining, workers’ rights and criminal justice reforms in 2017, when they also controlled both chambers of the lawmaking body, but many of their proposals were met by the veto pen of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Many of those measures are expected to return this time around, only to a more sympathetic ear. That includes the likes of collective bargaining for state workers and a minimum wage increase, concepts that Sisolak announced his support for during his State of the State address last month.
Also expect early movement on gun control measures, as Democrats push to find a fix to the background checks initiative approved by Nevada voters in 2016 but deemed to be not enforceable as written.
But in terms of top priorities, health care and education rank at the top for Democrats, said Assembly Floor Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno.
Part of the education push includes remedying what happened to the IP1 room tax increase, which was supposed to increase education funding but was instead diverted to the state’s general fund during the Great Recession.
And health care, she said, must be affordable, which includes a bill to help patients who are hit with what Benitez-Thompson called “surprise bills.”
Those could be bills that come after a doctor or hospital visit only to find out they were out of network or that a certain part of the procedure wasn’t covered by insurance.
“We’re really committed to protecting people who get caught in the middle,” Benitez-Thompson said.
Sisolak’s proposed budget calls for significant funding increases for health care and education. To pay for that, in part, he wants to keep some taxes that were either set to go down or expire. Republicans believe that a two-thirds vote in both chambers would be required to maintain those taxes, and since Democrats are one seat shy of that supermajority in the Senate, Republicans feel like they have power to negotiate.
Atkinson, however, said that he believes extending taxes requires only a simple majority, and said he expects that debate to happen early in the session.
“That’s not a new tax to me,” Atkinson said, who added that he had not spoken with Republican leaders about the issue as of Friday.
Atkinson was on the other side of the trifecta power when Republicans controlled the Senate, Assembly and governor’s office in 2015, and watched the backlash against the Republicans’ efforts to curb collective bargaining and reform public employee retirement.
Because of that, Atkinson wants Democrats to work with colleagues across the aisle. To that extent, he says he plans to do away with a 2015 rule change that prevented the minority party from introducing amendments on the Senate floor.
“They went for broke in 2015. A lot of it backfired,” Atkinson said of the 2015 Republicans. “We’re trying our best to not go down that route, trying our best to implement new policies that are fair and equitable for all sides.”