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Legislature’s special session over coronavirus pushed to July

Updated June 22, 2020 - 7:14 pm

CARSON CITY ­— A special session of the Nevada Legislature to address financial and related exigencies arising from the COVID-19 epidemic will be pushed into early July, legislative leaders and Gov. Steve Sisolak said Monday.

The governor said last week a special session would be convened before the end of the state’s fiscal year on June 30. Legislators must be physically present in Carson City to conduct session business.

Legislative staff needed more time to prepare the Legislative Building for both large gatherings of lawmakers and public participation, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said in a statement Monday. The two Las Vegas Democrats said that they asked the governor to delay the session call and the governor agreed.

“It is critical that the public have the opportunity to participate in the legislative process while strict safety precautions that follow the Governor’s emergency directives are also observed,” the legislative leaders said. Staff “is aware they must ensure that no chamber or space within the Legislative Building holds a gathering of more than 50 people, per the Phase 2 directive. Additionally, LCB staff needs more time to prepare the building with sufficient physical safety measures.”

The governor issued a statement an hour later saying that a date would be set in early July.

“While the Governor expressed concern over moving the date into the next fiscal year, he understands the important need of ensuring the safety of members and staff during a special session in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to ensuring the public has a safe way to participate in the process,” according to Sisolak’s statement.

The delay will allow more time “to evaluate the most up-to-date revenue forecasts with the hope of mitigating the most severe reductions in the FY21 budget proposal,” the statement continued.

Nevada anticipates an $812 million budget shortfall this year from hits to revenue on sales, gaming and other taxes triggered by the COVID-19-driven economic contraction. The state has tapped its $400 million reserve fund to address the shortfall, which includes a $265 million rollback in K-12 schools funding, and the governor has announced plans for furloughs, hiring freezes and some layoffs of state workers.

Preliminary estimates indicate an approximate $1.3 billion budget shortfall for the 2021 fiscal year that starts July 1, $900 million in the state general fund and the rest in K-12 schools funding.

The governor last week said he would leave in place the state’s Phase 2 reopening guidelines and asked his medical advisers to consider stricter statewide rules on face covering amid an uptick in prevalence of COVID-19 infections. As of Monday morning, Nevada had logged more than 13,500 cases of the illness since March 4 and 489 deaths. The four highest days of daily positive tests have come in the past week. The positive test rate has crept up from 5.2 percent to 5.6 percent in the same period.

The Nevada GOP seized on the delay, with state Executive Director Jessica Hanson issuing a statement accusing the governor of failing to “show he is ready to take action and solve this problem.”

The upcoming special session will be Nevada’s 31st. The last occurred in October 2016 when Gov. Brian Sandoval convened lawmakers to consider financing for the new Las Vegas football stadium.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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