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Nevada lawmaker calls for COVID money audit

Updated June 22, 2022 - 10:26 am

A state senator is requesting a broad audit of all state spending made under the governor’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, alleging that some spending may have been “corrupted by politics.”

Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, who represents the Centennial Hills neighborhood, submitted a letter Tuesday to the state Legislative Commission requesting the audit.

Hammond was inspired to pen the letter by a ProPublica investigation into a fraudulent COVID testing company that operated in Nevada. That company, Chicago-based Northshore Laboratories, had COVID testing contracts with the University of Nevada, Reno, the Washoe County School District and some operations in Las Vegas, and the tests they provided were faulty. The company’s license was rescinded after a state investigation.

“It was the sum of all fears for a legislator,” Hammond said. “When this broke, your heart stops because we didn’t have control (over the spending).”

Hammond said he believes the company was allowed to operate in the state because of connections to state leaders, including Gov. Steve Sisolak, which allegedly made gaining a license easier. Sisolak’s office denies any knowledge of Northshore’s operations in the state beyond the investigation.

“If the facts reported are accurate, the contract vetting process was corrupted by politics. Moreover, those in the executive branch have likely not only misled Nevadans but also betrayed us to the benefit of a campaign donor,” the letter said.

Audit request vague

Sisolak’s office said it was unclear what Hammond wants to examine.

“Until we see what Sen. Hammond is calling for, we can’t speculate or provide further comment,” said Sisolak’s spokeswoman, Meghin Delaney.

When the Northshore scandal came to light, the governor’s office called the test failures “despicable” and ordered the company to stop testing. The state never contracted with Northshore, the governor’s office said at the time, but local governments in Nevada did.

Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars are already audited by the federal government, and the results of those audits are posted online.

Hammond’s proposed audit is purposefully vague — a new legislative subcommittee would draw up its specific boundaries — but he’s targeting the federal relief money provided to the state in response to COVID-19.

That’s $1.25 billion in funding sent to the state via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, $836 million of which went directly into state coffers. Specifically, the audit would cover all spending of COVID relief funds under the governor’s emergency order, which ran from March 2020 until last month.

“There is a lot of money that went into the state that we, as legislators, did not have oversight over,” Hammond said.

Audit request not political

Despite being from the other party from Sisolak and his administration, Hammond made it clear that his motives are not political, and he is hoping for bipartisan support for his proposal.

“This isn’t political at all. I’m not on the ballot,” he said. “This is just something the Legislature needs to do, have oversight over the executive.”

Sisolak is running for re-election this year, facing Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo in the November general election. Lombardo won the Republican primary with 38.4 percent of the vote.

Ultimately, the audit is about Nevadans regaining trust in their government.

“Nevadans distrust government at every level. This most recent revelation of political favoritism and corruption has only deepened that mistrust and enlarged the gulf between elected officials and Nevada families,” the letter said. “The only responsible thing to do is to request and audit of each and every dollar spent.”

Hammond’s proposal will be considered at the commission’s next meeting in August.

“To me, it is clear that this is the least we can do, and anything less would be a dereliction of our duty to the people we serve.”

Contact Nick Robertson at NRobertson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @NickRobertsonSU on Twitter.

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