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Birth control bill a final-day casualty at Nevada Legislature

Updated June 5, 2019 - 11:58 pm

CARSON CITY In a Legislature that made history with the first female majority in the country, Nevada lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have allowed pharmacists to dispense contraceptive pills, patches and rings directly to patients.

State law requires women to see a doctor annually before being able to buy self-administered birth control. Senate Bill 361 would have changed that and had the support of several women legislators on both sides of the aisle as an example of their collective effort to expand access to women’s health care.

The Senate on Sunday unanimously passed the measure, signaling it had the momentum it needed to clear the Legislature. The Assembly then sent it to a committee, but that committee never met on the final day of the session, so the bill never got a vote.

“I will say I’m obviously disappointed that we weren’t able to make it to the finish line,” the bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, said Wednesday. “We have so many things that are happening in a such a short period of time, and I think ultimately we just sort of ran out of time in the Assembly.”

State lawmakers on Monday took more than 650 actions, including sending measures to committees, holding hearings, adding and approving amendments and passing bills, according to the Legislature’s website. It was a marathon day that started shortly after sunrise and ended at midnight.

About 50 bills passed Monday, including a modified business tax to fund education, a massive criminal justice reform bill, a public records reform bill and a new funding formula for K-12 education.

Bills died on final day

But the birth control measure was one of several that died that day, too. Others included a cash bail reform bill, an effort to raise the legal age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21 and a potential property tax increase for Reno that would have cleared the way for the city to hire more police officers.

Nevada is one of only five Western states that doesn’t have a law allowing women to buy self-administered birth control directly from a pharmacist. California, Colorado, Utah, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico and Washington all have such a law.

The Nevada birth control bill would have required patients to fill out a pharmacy questionnaire before receiving contraceptives, a safeguard if pharmacists learned the patient had a concern or complication that would be better addressed by a doctor.

The bill also would have required pharmacist-issued contraceptives to be covered by insurance.

While on the phone Wednesday, Cannizzaro said she was working on submitting a similar version of the bill to be heard in the next legislative session, her first bill draft request for 2021.

“We’re obviously going to keep fighting,” Cannizzaro said.

Alternatives to the law

The bill was worded in a way that would have required the state’s chief medical officer to issue a standing order that would have allowed pharmacists to administer birth control. It’s unclear if the chief medical officer has the authority to issue such an order in the interim or if the same could be achieved through executive action.

But Cannizzaro cautioned that an action like that, if possible, would lack policy backing that the bill provided, including the insurance requirement.

“The prescriptive order is permissive, but it’s the policy piece that surrounds it that makes it workable,” Cannizzaro said.

That’s why the bill will be a priority for her in the next session, she said.

Caroline Mello Roberson, the state director for NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada, said the women’s rights organization was proud to support expanding access to contraception.

“We were disappointed to see it not pass this session and look forward to working with the majority leader on this and other efforts to expand access,” Roberson said in an email.

Other bills that died Monday included:

Assembly Bill 125: The criminal justice reform bill that aimed to reduce Nevada’s reliance on cash bail died in the Senate. After being amended to appease law enforcement, prosecutors and courts, the watered down measure lost its support from reform advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, and the bill never saw a vote.

Assembly Bill 544: A last-minute bill introduced the day before the Legislature ended, the measure would have raised the legal age to buy tobacco products in Nevada from 18 to 21. The bill received bipartisan support in the Assembly and was approved there on a 38-3 vote. But it never got a hearing in the Senate on the final day of the session and died without a vote.

Assembly Bill 545: An emergency bill from Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, the measure would have provided additional funding to organizations including the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, using money the state receives from national settlements, like those from Volkswagen and the Tobacco Master Settlement. The bill never got a hearing.

Senate Bill 556: Another last-minute proposal, this time from Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, the bill would have allowed local governments outside of Clark County to put a question on the 2020 ballot asking voters to raise property taxes by 5 cents per $100 of assessed value. The increase would have gone to hiring more police officers and firefighters in those counties and cities. It was heard Saturday but never made it out of committee.

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3801. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter. Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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