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Bill that would have rewritten Nevada water laws dies

CARSON CITY — A bill that would have rewritten Nevada’s water laws, prompting rural and conservation interests who opposed it to raise the specter of long-standing plans to send eastern Nevada’s water to Las Vegas, died Friday after weeks of strained negotiations finally collapsed for good.

Saved virtually at the bell Friday — the last day for bills not given an exemption to pass in their second legislative house — was Assembly Bill 139, which would raise the age to marry in Nevada to 18. A last-minute amendment adding certain exceptions for 17-year-olds to marry brought the bill to the Senate floor for a vote at the end of a daylong flurry of action in both houses on more than 150 bills. The bill passed the Senate 15-4.

Winning its first house passage was Assembly Bill 538, a revenue measure that is key to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s proposed $8.8 billion general fund budget. The bill, which would generate nearly $100 million over the next two years by putting off a scheduled reduction in a business payroll tax, passed the Assembly on a party-line vote, 27-12.

Water bill goes down the drain

Assembly Bill 30 would have clarified the state engineer’s ability to use monitoring, management and mitigation plans, or so-called 3m plans, a change the state hoped would help stave off the lawsuits that often follow decisions to issue or deny water permits.

The water bill faced a tough road from its first hearing in February, with environmentalists, farmers, tribal groups and rural agencies raising concerns about the wide impact the bill could have on senior water rights holders.

Despite the breakdown in negotiations that led to the bill’s demise on Friday, stakeholders are planning to work together over the next 18 months to hash out potential water policy changes.

“The Nevada Division of Water Resources looks forward to working with stakeholders during the interim to develop modern management tools for the State Engineer to responsibly manage the Nevada’s limited water resources,” Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Director Brad Crowell said in a statement Friday.

“As responsible water managers, we must balance the needs of our State’s growing population and expanding economy with the importance of protecting Nevada’s natural ecosystems, while taking into account the increasing impacts of climate change. Nevada’s water resources belong to all Nevadans, and all stakeholders have a shared responsibility to help manage our water resources in the best interests of all Nevadans,” Crowell added.

In a joint statement, Kyle Roerink of Great Basin Water Authority and Patrick Donnelly of the Center for Biological Diversity said they were happy with the decision.

“We are very pleased that legislators, the governor, and DCNR have tabled this proposal in favor of collaborative discussions going forward. Environmentalists and rural water users look forward to engaging productively with DCNR to ensure a sustainable water future for our state,” the statement said.

In other legislative action:

The Senate, on a party line vote of 12-8, approved Assembly Bill 132, which bars employers, with some exceptions, from denying employment to someone who tests positive for marijuana use. It contains exceptions for positions such as firefighter, EMT, and certain driving occupations. The bill heads to the governor.

The Senate unanimously approved Assembly Bill 161, which restricts common-interest communities, such as condominium developments, from barring owner-occupants from keeping at least one pet, or from passing rules that apply retroactively to restrict the number of pets. The bill heads to the governor.

The Senate voted 18-3 for Assembly Bill 50, which requires localities in the state to hold municipal elections on the statewide cycle in even-numbered years starting in 2022. Eight cities – Boulder City, Caliente, Ely, Fallon, Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Yerington — currently hold elections in odd-numbered years. Three Republicans from affected cities voted no. The bill heads to the governor.

The Senate, on a 13-8 party line vote, approved a heavily amended Assembly Bill 376. The original measure would have required local law enforcement to report to the Legislature how many people they transferred to federal immigration authorities and what their underlying charges were. The amendment threw out the entire bill, replacing it with a requirement that persons in custody be told the purpose of questions about their immigration status. The amendment means the bill will have to return to the Assembly for concurrence.

The Assembly unanimously approved Senate Bill 457, which would require deaths at community-based treatment or dependent care facilities to be reported. This bill comes in response to a critical state audit.

Assembly Bill 125, which would overhaul the cash bail system in Nevada, passed the Assembly on a party line, 27-12 vote.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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