Long after they have forgotten the names of legislators who voted yes or no for taxes, Nevadans will remember the 2011 Legislature as one that approved far-reaching laws on social issues.
Legislators passed and Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law three bills that outlaw discrimination against transgenders. These are people who express themselves as the gender opposite the one assigned at birth.
By prohibiting job, housing and public accommodation discrimination against them, Nevada moves to the forefront of states in protecting rights of all minorities.
The 2011 session also could be remembered as the one when texting and hand-held cellphone use by drivers were outlawed. This will depend on whether Sandoval in the coming week signs the enabling bill into law.
KEY BILLS THAT PASSED
SMOKING BAN: The Senate late Monday passed Assembly Bill 571, which would allow bars that permit smoking to once again serve food. The bill modifying the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act already passed the Assembly and now goes to Sandoval for consideration. He has not said whether he will sign the measure.
CELLPHONE USE AND TEXTING: The state Senate voted 12-9 and the Assembly 24-17 for Senate Bill 140, which would prohibit texting and hand-held cellphone use by all drivers starting Jan. 1. Under the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, violations would bring a $50 penalty for the first offense, $100 for the second and $250 for the third and subsequent offenses. The governor, who has two teenage children, has not yet signed the bill, or made any indication of his leanings. Almost all Republicans voted against the bill.
TRANSGENDER RIGHTS: Three bills were signed into law that prohibit discrimination against transgender people. AB211 prohibits job discrimination against transgenders. SB331 prevents discrimination against them in public accommodations, such as restaurants, stores and hotels. SB368 prohibits discrimination against them in housing, such as the sale and rental of homes and property. The laws go into effect Oct. 1.
EDUCATION REFORM: Sandoval won legislative support to end the “last in, first out” policy where jobs of veteran teachers are kept during layoffs while younger and sometimes better teachers are let go. In evaluating their performance, 50 percent of a teacher’s performance will depend on student achievement. Teachers, however, now will be given three one-year probation periods, not two as under current law, before they are fired for insufficient job performance. Schools also are required to set up performance pay incentives for teachers by 2014. The governor also was given authority to name the state superintendent of public instruction, and the state Board of Education was revamped into a seven-member voting board, with four members elected and three appointed by the governor, state Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker. The new election provisions go into effect Jan. 1, 2012.
UNCLAIMED GAMING TICKETS: As part of the budget deal with the governor, legislators approved AB219, a proposal by Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, which lets the state collect 50 percent of the value of unredeemed winning slot machine tickets. Often people who win a few dollars don’t cash in their tickets. The state expects to receive as much as $16 million a year.
IDENTITY THEFT: Sandoval signed Assembly Bill 18, proposed by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, which extends the statute of limitations on crimes involving identity theft to four years after the time when a victim discovers his identity was stolen. Now the Social Security card numbers and names of children often are stolen and the victims do not find out until they are 18 or older and seek a loan or credit card.
ANIMAL CRUELTY: Legislators approved Senate Bill 223, which makes it a felony, punishable by a year or more in prison, to deliberately torture or maim an animal. Supporters call the bill “Cooney’s Law” after a Reno dog that was killed when its owner cut open the pet’s stomach with a box cutter. The crime is now a misdemeanor and offenders often get off with a slap on the wrist. Forty-four states have felony animal cruelty laws.
LAUGHLIN INCORPORATION: Legislators approved SB262, proposed by state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, which will allow voters in Laughlin to decide whether to incorporate Laughlin into a city. Incorporation, with their approval, would begin on July 1, 2013. The bill outlines duties for the mayor and city council and requires a study to be done first of the fiscal feasibility of incorporation.
MOUNT CHARLESTON SNOW PLAY PARK: Sandoval signed SB232, proposed by state Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, which will allow the owners of Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort to build a 33-acre snow play area in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.
EMINENT DOMAIN FOR MINING: Sandoval signed Senate Bill 86, proposed by state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. It repeals a state law that allows the mining industry to use the power of eminent domain to take private homes and ranches for mineral exploration.
SEXTING: Sandoval signed state Sen. Valerie Wiener’s SB140, which treats “sexting” or the texting or emailing of sexual images by minors as a noncriminal act. A judge will determine the penalty for the young violator. If an adult commits the same crime, he could face a child pornography charge and would be required to register as a sex offender. The new law states that children often do not realize the consequences of sexting, an activity that is popular among teens .
TOLL ROADS: Early today, the Assembly on a 29-13 vote passed SB506, which would allow the Department of Transportation to work with private interests to construct a toll road around Boulder City, a proposal long sought by state Sen. Joe Hardy. The move for the toll road was spawned by bottlenecks and traffic jams that were created with the opening of the new bridge near Hoover Dam.
BILLS THAT DIED IN the LEGISLATURE OR WERE VETOED
STADIUM DISTRICT: A bill to divert taxpayer money from “facility districts” to help finance one of three potential stadiums in the Las Vegas Valley failed in the Assembly late Monday. One proposed stadium is near Mandalay Bay, another in downtown Las Vegas and a third on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus.
STATE LOTTERY: State Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, refused to conduct a vote in his Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee on Senate Joint Resolution 1, a proposal to allow voters to decide whether to legalize a state lottery. It marked the 25th time in the last 30 years that legislators refused even to try to lift the 1864 ban on a state lottery.
PRIMARY SEAT BELT: Senate Transportation Committee members on a 4-3 vote killed Senate Bill 235, which would have allowed police to cite drivers for not wearing a seat belt without first having to charge them with another offense.
HELMET LAW: The Senate Finance Committee did not act on state Sen. Don Gustavson’s SB177, which would have repealed the 1972 law requiring motorcyclists and their passengers to wear helmets. The bill by Gustavson, R-Sparks, passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee. A report from the University Medical Center showed head injuries suffered by motorcyclists average more than $100,000 in trauma care and often the rider does not have sufficient health insurance.
HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS: Sandoval vetoed AB456, which would have allowed high school seniors to receive full-fledged diplomas even if they did not pass all sections of the high school proficiency test. The bill might have helped about 100 students in the Clark County School District who despite numerous attempts cannot pass the math portion of the test. Sandoval said the bill represented “diminished expectations for our students and lower standards.”
MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, both failed to pass bills to amend Nevada’s medical marijuana law. Their proposals would have led to marijuana dispensaries and growers supplying the drug to the more than 3,000 Nevadans who are permitted to use marijuana for medical reasons.
FIRE DEPARTMENT MERGERS: The Assembly Government Affairs Committee did not act on Assembly Bill 278, proposed by Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, which would have authorized city and county fire departments in Clark and Washoe counties to merge into one larger department. Opponents questioned whether there would be savings since firefighters would receive the same ranks and pay in the merged department.
CORONER’S INQUEST: The Assembly Government Affairs Committee also did not act on AB320, which would have ended coroner’s inquests in Clark County. While the bill was favored by the police officers’ union, Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie asked legislators to wait to see if new inquest regulations passed by the Clark County Commission clear up inquest problems.
Sen. Leslie killed her SB203 because it lacked enough votes to pass out of committee. The bill would have required people to secure prescriptions for cold and allergy medications that use ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and other ingredients used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Opponents said passage would cause a tenfold increase in the prices of legitimate medications.
DNA SAMPLES: The Senate Judiciary Committee did not act on AB552, which would require police to take DNA samples of anyone arrested on a felony or sex crime offense. The bill was generated in part because of the slaying of Brianna Denison , a college co-ed from Reno, in 2008. Her assailant, James Biela, had been arrested previously for crimes and had not been sampled for DNA. If his DNA had been sampled, he might have been brought to justice more quickly, bill supporters said.
GUNS ON CAMPUS: The Assembly Judiciary Committee did not act on Senate-passed SB231, proposed by Sen. Lee, which would have allowed a person who holds a concealed weapons permit to carry that weapon on college and university campuses. Rape victim Amanda Collins of Reno testified she might have been able to deter her assailant if she would have been permitted to carry her weapon on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. But university and college officials, along with many police authorities, testified against the bill. Some were concerned a concealed weapons user could cause more, not fewer, problems for police handling life-threatening situations.
AIR IN TIRES: The Assembly Transportation Committee killed state Sen. Mike Schneider’s SB144, which would have required garages and oil-changing businesses to check their customers’ tires and if necessary fill the tires to manufacturers’ recommendations. Violators could have had their registrations to operate their businesses revoked by the Department of Motor Vehicles.