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Nevada lawmakers pass surprise school choice resolution

CARSON CITY — Nevada lawmakers passed a surprise resolution Saturday expressing its intent to exempt military families and children under 7 from the 100-day rule to receive state support to attend private schools.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1 was introduced in the upper chamber by Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, in the waning minutes of the 29th special legislative session after legislators gave final approval to a package of bills giving tax breaks to electric car maker Faraday Future and providing financing to develop the Apex industrial site in North Las Vegas.

Introduction of the resolution caught Democratic lawmakers off guard. The issue was not included in Gov. Brian Sandoval's proclamation outlining what lawmakers could consider during the special session.

But supporters of the resolution and the governor's office said the Legislature can bring up resolutions, as opposed to bills, on its own.

It's been a hotly contested issue after lawmakers earlier this year passed and Sandoval signed into law what is called the most expansive school choice program in the country. It allows parents to use the per-pupil state funding provided by taxpayers for tuition at private schools or other programs.

Two pending lawsuits challenge the law on constitutional grounds.

The law requires students to first be enrolled in public school for 100 days before they can access those funds — about $5,000 per year — from an education savings account.

State Treasurer Dan Schwartz, who oversees the program, said he believed the existing law allows an exemption for children of active duty military families and children under 7, the age when state law says they must attend school.

But the Legislative Counsel Bureau earlier issued an opinion challenging that argument. A hearing before the treasurer is scheduled for Monday when he is expected to approve final regulations implementing the program.

The resolution says that the Legislature "hereby exercises its power to provide direction, guidance and advice" regarding the original intent of the bill creating the education savings accounts.

It passed unanimously on a voice vote in the Senate, though not without protest. Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said he did not recall any discussions of exemptions when the bill was debated during the regular 2015 session.

Democrats, however, issued a "qualified" yes vote.

The Assembly passed the measure on a roll-call, party-line vote, 25-15.

Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, D-Las Vegas, urged a "no" vote, saying the Legislature should not inject itself into an issue currently being litigated.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb.

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