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‘Historic legislation’: Lombardo beats deadline, signs education budget

Updated June 1, 2023 - 5:23 am

CARSON CITY – An impending standoff over the state’s budget was resolved after Gov. Joe Lombardo signed two bills related to funding for K-12 education and authorizing spending by state agencies late Wednesday night.

Joined by several members of the Assembly, the governor signed both bills with just minutes to spare. Senate Bill 503 and Senate Bill 504, both of which were signed last Thursday, would have automatically become law without Lombardo’s signature at midnight.

“I’m honored to sign such historic education legislation this evening,” Lombardo said in a statement. “Since day one, my administration has been committed to delivering serious school safety reforms and an education budget that empowers Nevada schools, teachers, and students to succeed.”

The signing comes after a tense public dispute between Democratic legislative leadership over the budget. Last week, Lombardo vowed for a second time to not sign the budget until his policy priorities are addressed just minutes after Democrats said it would be “hard to justify” vetoing the state budget.

Midnight signing

The late night agreement comes mere hours after lawmakers extended an olive branch by voting to advance a pair of school safety bills, including one introduced on Lombardo’s behalf.

Assembly Bill 285, sponsored by Assemblywoman Angie Taylor, D-Reno, and Assembly Bill 330 – pushed by Lombardo – were both passed on a vote of 20-1 after lawmakers approved amendments to both measures.

“I think it’s a yeoman’s effort,” Lombardo said. “It’s a bipartisan effort that shows that we can work together for the benefit of Nevadans and the kids, which is the most important piece.”

Sen. James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, was the lone no vote on the measures.

School safety and restorative discipline have become hot button issues in the last year, and have been a priority for Gov. Joe Lombardo, who vowed to be Nevada’s next “education governor.” The Clark County School District saw an uptick in violent incidents during last school year, with one student at Eldorado High School assaulting a teacher.

Assembly Bill 285 revises the state’s school discipline plan, putting the onus on individual school bodies to come up with restorative justice procedures and puts in place procedures for when a student can be suspended or expelled. Under the new law, no child under 6 years old can be expelled, and a student must be at least 11 years old to be permanently expelled.

AB 300, which was amended on the Senate floor late Wednesday night, concerns circumstances under which students older than 11 may be expelled or suspended and bars the suspension of students under age 11. The bill also outlines discipline for a student who commits battery that is intended to cause bodily harm to a school employee.

Education bill

In another olive branch move, members of the Assembly Education Committee voted to amend and pass Lombardo’s expansive education bill. Several key portions of Assembly Bill 400 were deleted, including a provision that would have funded transportation to charter schools, open zoning, Opportunity Scholarships and the creation of an Office of School Choice.

The bill would now allow counties and cities to sponsor charter schools, giving an $140 million appropriation for an early childhood literacy program, and would restore a provision in the Read by Grade 3 program that would require third-graders to be held back if they can’t read at grade level, starting in 2028.

The Nevada State Democratic Party attributed the bills’ success to the Democratic-led Legislature to make “record investments in education, public safety, and health care” that also included measures Lombardo supports.

“Vetoing this budget would have been a disaster for hardworking families but because of Democrats’ leadership, we can now continue moving Nevada forward,” Nevada State Democratic Party Spokesperson Mallory Payne said in a statement early Thursday morning.

Other budget bills remain in limbo – and are under threat of a veto by Lombardo if the Legislature does not include other pieces of his agenda, including criminal justice reform and education policies such as Opportunity Scholarships.

Another deadline comes Thursday night for two bills – Assembly Bill 520 and Assembly Bill 522 – that were sent to Lombardo’s desk last Friday.

“I’m not drawing lines in the sand about what gets us to the place we need to be,” said Ben Kieckhefer, the governor’s chief of staff. “We’ll play it by ear tomorrow and see what we get.”

The remaining budget bill, Assembly Bill 521, remains in limbo on the secretary’s desk in the Senate. That bill pays for capital projects during the next two years.

Contact Taylor R. Avery at TAvery@reviewjournal.com. Follow @travery98 on Twitter. Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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