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Gov. Sisolak talks about changes, challenges during first year in office

Updated December 6, 2019 - 3:21 pm

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday he’s working on reforming state boards, called for more independence in marijuana testing labs and expressed doubts about a plan to turn redistricting over to an independent commission.

Reflecting on his first year in office, Sisolak said he didn’t anticipate so much trouble from state occupational boards that oversee everything from doctors and dentists to cosmetologists and private investigators.

“We’ve replaced some board members. We are vetting and screening every single applicant that goes on every single board,” Sisolak said. “I’ll be honest, it would be a lot easier to just kind of turn a blind eye and just keep signing off on appointments, but we’ve got to stop the Band-Aid fixes. We’ve got to start putting quality people on these boards.”

In recent weeks, the Review-Journal has reported that the state pharmacy board had failed to conduct required background checks on drug wholesalers since at least 2007, despite charging fees for those checks. The newspaper also reported that the state dental board failed to properly investigate patient complaints and was hampered by conflicts of interest.

“You want to make sure that the patient who’s bringing these complaints forward has a good voice, not somebody who’s trying to protect their buddy’s business because they happen to know the gal that owns that practice,” Sisolak said. “That’s the problem: The public needs to have confidence that when they come (forward) because they feel that they have been wronged by a provider and the board is there to handle the complaints, that they’re handled appropriately.”

Sisolak said the pharmacy board is now conducting all required background checks, and he ordered that money collected from wholesalers be returned to them.

The governor also said he was concerned about state boards and commissions hiring their own attorneys and lobbyists, who sometimes advocate for things that aren’t in the state’s best interests.

“And I don’t know if we’re coming up with the best laws based on that and whose lobbyist has the most influence to get some of these things passed,” Sisolak said. “There has to be a better way to do this so that we cannot circumvent the process, but make sure that the legislators who are formulating this policy get access to good quality information.”

Marijuana independence

One of Sisolak’s major accomplishments in the 2019 legislative session was creating the Cannabis Compliance Board, an oversight agency modeled on Nevada’s Gaming Control Board. The board’s funding won’t be in place until the new fiscal year begins in July, but in the interim, a task force is examining marijuana issues.

Recently, the state suspended the license of a testing facility after a state investigation found “inaccurate and misleading” potency results for marijuana. The state also issued a health warning after marijuana from three Las Vegas dispensaries tested above allowable levels for yeast and mold.

Under the current regulatory system, marijuana growers pay private testing labs to determine the quality of the drug and the amount of THC, creating the potential for conflicts. Sisolak said the independence of the testing labs was critical.

“So we need to do more on the testing front and see that it’s totally independent, and I know they’ve got associations that sometimes overlap, and there’s friendships and relationships and that’s problematic,” Sisolak said.

He said there will be more discussions around the idea of government-run testing facilities to ensure independence, perhaps through the state university system.

“They have to be truly independent labs, and unless they’re state-owned, I don’t know how you make them truly independent, because they’re always going to be subject to influence.”

Redistricting commission

Sisolak, the first Democratic governor elected in Nevada in 20 years, expressed doubts about a proposed constitutional amendment proffered by the League of Women Voters to turn the once-a-decade redrawing of Nevada’s political district lines over to an independent commission rather than the Legislature.

If Democrats retain their majorities in both houses of the Legislature, they could draw lines that would ensure their party a majority into the next decade. That’s especially true after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this year that partisan gerrymandering complaints were political issues, generally beyond the ability of the courts to adjudicate.

Sisolak said since four of the seven members of the commission would be appointed by Republican and Democratic leaders in the Legislature, it wouldn’t be truly independent.

“The independence of these independent commissions can sometimes be called into question,” Sisolak said. “They’re being appointed by (partisan) leaders and they have ideas and they have biases and they have thoughts.”

He added: “I don’t think it would be truly independent. When you have appointees, it’s not independent and that’s going to be a problem.”

Homelessness ordinance

The governor, a former Clark County commissioner, said he disagreed with the city of Las Vegas’ recent adoption of an ordinance making it a crime to camp on city streets if space is available in shelters. The ordinance gained national attention after several presidential candidates came out in opposition.

“Arresting and ticketing homeless people, I don’t think, is the right way to go,” Sisolak said. “I can tell you our officers don’t want to be picking them up and putting them in the back of squad cars and taking them down to the detention center.”

Sisolak said homelessness is a broad problem, with causes ranging from drug and alcohol addiction to mental health to joblessness, and that it requires a more comprehensive solution than that offered by the city’s approach.

“I don’t think the ordinance is going to solve the problem,” he said. “I think we need to take a more holistic approach. And it’s not a Nevada problem. I mean … every governor has the same problem.

“So we need an overall approach,” Sisolak added. “You’re not going to fix the homeless situation if they don’t have a place to get a job, or if they don’t have a place where they can get food, or take a shower. … So we have to be more holistic and I think that’s the direction that I want to go.”

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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