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Assembly passes police reform, unemployment bills

CARSON CITY – The Assembly Tuesday approved bills to speed up and extend unemployment benefits and tweak a 2019 law on police officer rights as the Legislature moved within one final bill of adjourning its second special session of the year.

The Assembly’s votes on the fifth day of the session leave lawmakers only with a contentious measure that would both immunize businesses against lawsuits for COVID-19 infections and strengthen health protections for workers in the state’s sprawling hotel industry.

After hours of committee hearings and public testimony, the Assembly Tuesday afternoon approved both bills on its calendar with little discussion. The first, Senate Bill 2, makes changes to a 2019 bill that strengthened rights for police officers facing non-criminal misconduct charges.

Momentum for the bill and another that passed earlier banning police chokeholds rose in the aftermath of nationwide protests over Black citizens who have died at the hands of police including George Floyd, who died from asphyxiation May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.

As in the Senate, which approved the bill on Monday, progressive critics told lawmakers in testimony that the bill did not go far enough, while law enforcement backers opposed it for weakening protections for officers facing internal, non-criminal misconduct investigations.

“This is not about villainizing law enforcement,” Speaker Jason Frierson said at the start of questions on the bill from lawmakers. “I think that we have to recognize that with the changing times comes a change in how we view the community and policing, and we need to have that conversation collaboratively.”

Senate Bill 3 is an effort to make submitting and processing unemployment claims simpler and faster, add seven weeks of benefits for some claimants, and enable the state to react faster to federal policy edicts and enact state-level changes in an emergency, such as the current COVID-19 outbreak.

As with earlier Senate testimony on the bill, advocates for communities hit hardest by record unemployment and the state’s inability to process and pay claims fast enough clamored for its passage even as they questioned how much it would help.

The Assembly heard testimony on both bills first, voting on them back-to-back in the late afternoon. The controversial police bill passed 25-17; the unemployment benefits bill by 41-1, with only Assemblyman Chris Edwards, R-Las Vegas, voting no on grounds that it didn’t address the fundamental claims payment problems.

Countering Edwards, Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, listed the bill’s provisions, including one that removes a Catch-22 where people could lose all of their pandemic claim supplement by earning even slightly over the amount normally allowed to receive unemployment.

“These are good steps forward – it’s not perfect, we have more to do,” Carlton said. “But the flexibility that we have given the administration, with oversight from the Legislature through the legislative commission, will make sure that we are part of the discussion and our constituents voices will be heard.”

The Assembly adjourned before the Senate even convened for the day to return to Senate Bill 4, the business liability/hotel worker protections bill. The Senate passed the bill out of committee close to 2:30 a.m. Tuesday but under legislative rules cannot vote on it until Wednesday at the earliest. It is the final bill on the session agenda.

A little before 7:30 p.m., the Senate convened for barely five minutes to move the bill forward on its calendar for Wednesday.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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