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Lombardo busts one-session veto record, rejecting 75 bills

Updated June 16, 2023 - 8:35 pm

Gov. Joe Lombardo set a single-session veto record, rejecting 75 bills passed during the 2023 session, the most of any governor in Nevada history.

Lombardo’s record surpasses the previous single-session veto record set by former Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, during the 2009 session, when 48 bills were vetoed.

But Lombardo still has a long way to go to meet or surpass the all-time veto record, held by Republican Brian Sandoval, who vetoed 97 bills during his two terms, which encompassed four regular legislative sessions, according to the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Research Division.

Ben Kieckhefer, Lombardo’s chief of staff, called the vetoes “an appropriate exercise of balance of powers.”

“Joe Lombardo is going to do what he says he going to do,” Kieckhefer said. “The (veto) number is driven by what he thinks is good for the state.”

Kieckhefer said notwithstanding the pile of vetoes, relations between Lombardo and the Democratic leaders of the Legislature remain good, and that the disagreements don’t preclude cooperation in the future. “The governor is pragmatic in his approach to this process,” Kieckhefer said. “He understands the need to work together to get things done for this state.”

Asked what the governor’s top accomplishment for the session was, Kieckhefer didn’t hesitate to name school safety. Lombardo got a key school safety bill signed into law, alongside another by Democratic Assemblywoman Angie Taylor, D-Reno, that focused on student discipline. A joint signing of both those measures was cited as an example of bipartisan cooperation.

But Kieckhefer added that Lombardo got most of the policy bills he asked for in his State of the State speech; only a controversial election reform measure was left undone.

Overall, Lombardo signed 536 of the 611 bills passed by the 2023 Legislature, or 88 percent. The vetoed bills comprise 12 percent of the total approved by lawmakers. Lombardo also signed two additional bills, one from each of two special sessions called after the conclusion of the regular session June 5.

Some of the highlights:

Closing a tax loophole: Lombardo signed Assembly Bill 448 on Thursday, which aims to close a tax loophole identified by an investigation conducted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The bill requires payment of real estate transfer taxes if a property was shifted to a business entity that was “formed for the purpose of avoiding those taxes.” The law takes effect immediately.

Legislators introduced the measure after the Review-Journal reported last year that casinos and other big property owners frequently avoided transfer taxes in lucrative sales, as the deals were structured in complex ways that claimed exemptions to the tax. Critics, however, previously told the newspaper that the bill would do little to force companies to pay the tax. Nevada Realtors President Tom Blanchard has said hard-working Nevadans pay the transfer tax, but large corporate entities can escape paying it under state-allowed exemptions, leaving millions of dollars out of government coffers.

“Fundamentally, this situation has been unfair for everyday Nevadans,” he said.

Reforming government: Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 431, a scaled-back government reform bill sought by Lombardo. The bill will allow the appointment of a chief innovation officer for the state who will focus on recruitment and retention of employees and reducing costs and increasing efficiency of state government. The bill also increases the cap on the state’s rainy day fund from 20 percent to 26 percent of general fund spending.

Paid family leave: Assembly Bill 376 would allow state employees to take eight weeks of paid family leave to care for newborn babies, recover from an illness or care for a sick family member. Employees first must take regular sick leave, and then are paid 50 percent of their normal pay while out on leave.

Jail voting: Assembly Bill 286 will require city and county jail administrators to establish a process to allow inmates — who are either awaiting trial or serving misdemeanor sentences — to cast a mail ballot in an election while incarcerated.

Cigar taxes: Lombardo signed Assembly Bill 232 by freshman Assemblyman Brian Hibbetts, R-Las Vegas, on Thursday. The bill caps the tax on cigars at between 30 cents and 50 cents per cigar, a change from current law that calls for taxation at 30 percent of the wholesale price of tobacco products. The bill followed a circuitous path through the process, spending most of its life stuck in the Assembly Ways & Means Committee before being sprung to the Senate, placed in legislative limbo on the secretary’s desk, then passing on the final day of the session.

Lombardo also vetoed several bills before the Friday deadline, including:

Vote counting: Assembly Bill 242 would have required all votes to be counted by machine, as opposed to hand counting. The bill was passed after Nye County declared it would use a hand count rather than electronic counting of ballots, ostensibly to provide a more accurate tally.

Foreign languages: Assembly Bill 246 would have required election materials to be printed in languages other than English. Currently, materials are available in English, Spanish and Tagalog in Clark County.

Financial disclosure: Senate Bill 60 would have required inaugural committees to report donations of $1,000 or more. Lombardo was criticized for registering his inaugural committee as a political non-profit after the January inauguration. “Joe Lombardo just confirmed what we already know — he has no intention of living up to his campaign promise of being transparent with Nevadans,” said Nevada State Democratic Party spokesperson Mallory Payne in a statement about the veto.

Tenant’s rights: Assembly Bill 218 would have required landlords to disclose not only rent but also all fees and other costs in rental agreements, and to provide an electronic method of paying rent that did not involve fees. Under the bill, by Assemblywoman Venicia Considine, D-Las Vegas, tenants could have sued and recovered damages for violations.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter. Review-Journal reporter Eli Segall contributed to this story.

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