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Legislature’s 15th week saw sparring session with Laxalt

CARSON CITY — Lawmakers mixed it up in the 15th week of the Nevada Legislature.

They had a high-profile meeting with Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Gaming Board Commission Chairman A.G. Burnett over a secretly taped meeting. They also found time for more routine legislative matters, casting votes on the education and the corrections budgets. Bills are being signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval, including a measure to ban conversion therapy for minors.

Laxalt hearing: Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt was forced to defend himself before lawmakers in his first appearance before the Legislature this session.

Laxalt told lawmakers in a joint meeting of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees that he never pressured the Gaming Control Board to intervene in a legal dispute between Las Vegas Sands Corp. and a former employee. That defense came in response to a 2016 meeting between Laxalt and Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett, who secretly recorded the conversation.

Assembly Bill 513, heard this week, would remove the attorney general’s office as counsel for the Gaming Control Board and Gaming Commission and establish an independent legal counsel for the regulators.

Corrections budget: A joint legislative subcommittee rejected a new proposal to double the number of inmates Nevada will send to out-of-state prisons because of a looming bed shortage. The panels instead approved Sandoval’s initial request for $12.4 million to send 200 “high-risk” inmates out-of-state.

Department of Corrections officials say the move would ease overcrowding.

Based on bed shortage projections, the governor’s office and NDOC requested doubling to 400 the number of inmates Nevada sends out of state, at an additional cost of $8 million. Democrats on the money panel objected, arguing Nevada has long avoided making tough choices to reduce the inmate population, such as proper funding or sentencing reforms.

Education budget: A budget subcommittee signed off on a big slice of the public schools budget for next two years, voting to include $63 million from a new 10 percent retail tax on recreational marijuana.

But much remains unresolved. Some recommendations from Sandoval, including $42 million in new revenue to expand the Zoom Schools focusing on English language learners and $30 million for Victory Schools in high-poverty areas, were left unresolved by the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means subcommittee.

Conversion therapy: The governor signed a bill prohibiting mental health professionals from conducting sexual conversion therapy on minors.

Senate Bill 201, sponsored by Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, makes it illegal for a physician or other health professional to perform therapy intended to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of someone younger than 18. Supporters of the ban say such therapy amounts to abuse of LGBTQ youth and can cause mental and emotional harm.

Clergy and religious organizations are exempted.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

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