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Key bill to help balance governor’s budget moves forward

Updated May 23, 2019 - 11:39 pm

CARSON CITY – A controversial funding bill that is key to balancing Gov. Steve Sisolak’s proposed $8.8 billion two-year budget got expedited action in committee late Thursday, along with another measure that anchors Democrat-backed efforts to raise the state’s minimum wage.

The legislative committee actions moved Assembly Bill 538, the funding bill, and Assembly Joint Resolution 10, the minimum wage measure, to the full Assembly for action. The first item delays a scheduled reduction in the payroll tax paid by businesses, keeping it at its current level to generate roughly $100 million over the coming two years.

Legislative lawyers have issued an opinion saying lawmakers can extend the tax without the two-thirds majority typically required for tax measures, a position Republicans and other opponents of the extension have disputed. The measure passed out of the Assembly Taxation committee with the committee’s three Republicans voting no.

AJR 10 sets up a process for voters potentially to amend the state constitution to raise the minimum wage. It would set the state’s minimum wage at $12 starting in mid-2024, tie future increases to the federal minimum wage, and allow the Legislature to raise it. It would go to voters if approved by lawmakers this year and in the 2021 legislative session.

The measure dovetails with Assembly Bill 456, a pending bill that would raise the hourly minimum wage to $12 in stages by 2024. It passed out of the Assembly Commerce and Labor committee with Republicans voting no.

As with the funding bill, chambers of commerce and retailers testified in opposition, citing its potential economic impacts, especially on small business.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, downplayed those concerns, saying the “doom and gloom scenarios that we have heard don’t necessarily hold true.” She added that the resolution was “not a vote for us to actually raise the minimum wage. This is a vote to ask our constituents what they think.”

NV Energy bill

A bill aimed at curbing the number of large companies from leaving NV Energy got its first hearing. Senate Bill 547 would set up more robust requirements for those larger customers to leave, including defining what types of customers could leave and requiring an application to be filed at least 280 days before attaining electricity from other providers.

“This is meant to set parameters, define terms, and regulate businesses that are coming into our state,” Sen. Chris Brooks, D-Las Vegas, the bill sponsor, told a joint meeting of the Senate and Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committees.

Nevada Consumer Advocate Ernest Figueroa, called the bill “a good first step, and a necessary step to protect individual ratepayers.”

In other legislative action

The Senate, voting 13-8 along party lines, approved Assembly Bill 458, which ends the annual 10 percent increase to the Opportunity Scholarship program enacted in 2015, freezing it at this year’s level of approximately $6.7 million. The program allows businesses to donate toward private-school tuition for lower-income students in exchange for tax write-offs. The bill heads to the governor.

The Senate voted 20-1 to approve Assembly Bill 226, barring employers, insurers and certain other entities from compelling someone to implant a microchip, either as a condition of employment or, in the case of an insurer, to track a person’s health. The bill was amended twice to limit its scope, balancing privacy protections against concerns that the bill limited voluntary implanting of chips for a variety of uses, such as opening doors with a hand wave. Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, cast the sole vote in opposition. The bill heads to the governor.

The Senate unanimously approved Assembly Bill 465, requiring electric utilities to implement expanded community-based solar projects that help lower-income residential customers go solar. That bill also goes to the governor’s desk.

The Assembly voted 24-16 to approve Senate Bill 224, which would make PERS recipients’ names public, but limits release of other information about benefits to only the annual payment amount.

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

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