Nevada Legislature special session to tackle police reform, worker help
The Nevada Legislature’s second special session of the summer will start Friday, with lawmakers expected to tackle a litany of issues from reforms on policing and elections to ways to protect workers amid a global pandemic.
Updated July 30, 2020 - 7:13 pm
The Nevada Legislature’s second special session of the summer, which will tackle a litany of policy issues, will start Friday morning, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Thursday evening.
Sisolak issued the proclamation to convene lawmakers for the session and laid out the topics Nevada legislators will address in the coming days. Bills introduced in special sessions in Nevada must be related to the items listed in the governor’s proclamation.
The Legislature met for its first special session on July 8 to address the state’s $1.2 billion budget hole. That session lasted 12 days as lawmakers discussed but failed to pass any revenue increases.
This time around, they will take up policy issues that include:
■ Expediting unemployment insurance payments for Nevadans.
■ Criminal justice reforms, including changes to a 2019 bill that deals with police use of force and police officer conduct standards.
■ Election changes to “ensure Nevadans can exercise their fundamental right to vote during a state of emergency.”
■ Liability protections for businesses, schools and more should people contract COVID-19 at those places.
■ Allowing lawmakers to participate remotely during the special session.
■ Allowing courts to “implement alternative resolution measures” in eviction processes.
Here’s what to expect from the upcoming special session:
The push for police reforms has erupted across the country after George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody in late May. Nevada is no different, with advocates calling for a slew of police reforms, from banning chokehold and other neck-restraining tactics to calls for more transparency and data on police interactions.
Holly Welborn, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said that the condensed lawmaking session isn’t likely to bring about the broad policing reforms that advocates might be hoping for. But enacting some of the reforms, Welborn added, would show “a commitment from lawmakers to foster change.”
One of the biggest targets for reform advocates in Nevada is Senate Bill 242 from the 2019 Legislature, which they say has made it even more difficult to hold officers accountable.
The measure drew broad bipartisan support at the time, and it passed in the state Senate unanimously and on a 36-3 vote in the Assembly. Just over a year later, advocates say the bill needs to be repealed.
During a hearing on the bill in last year’s Legislature, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, the bill’s sponsor, told fellow lawmakers that the bill “attempts to set a level playing field for peace officers who are investigated by their employers” and noted that it added certain protections for the officers, including not being able to reassign officers without their consent and ensuring that officers can have a union representative present if being questioned by a superior.
The new law also rendered statements made by officers during internal investigations unusable against them in civil cases unless the officers allow the to be used. The law also put a one-year statute of limitations on any alleged misconduct that doesn’t raise criminal charges and bars departments from reopening internal investigations unless new evidence is presented.
Assemblyman Tom Roberts, R-Las Vegas, who retired from the Metropolitan Police Department as assistant sheriff in 2018, said he has heard from officers who work in the department’s internal affairs bureau who have said the statute of limitations on misconduct “has been an issue.”
But Roberts said he doesn’t think a full repeal of the bill is in the works at this point.
“I think it’s going to be a tweak,” Roberts said.
Asked this month about possible changes to that legislation, Cannizzaro said that there was never any intent to “create a situation where we cannot hold police officers accountable.”
The bill, she said, was about making sure workers are treated fairly by employers, but “we also know that we have to do better, we have to do more to make sure people can have faith in the community that protects them.”
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said during a news conference last month that he wants to see more data on race and police stops in the state. At the same conference, Assemblywoman Danielle Monroe-Moreno, a retired corrections officer, proposed increasing the amount of times law enforcement personnel must undergo psychological evaluations.
Advocates meanwhile are asking for an outright ban on police chokeholds and other neck restraints, such as the lateral vascular neck restraints — a technique that came under scrutiny after the death of Tashii Brown in 2017. Brown died after an Las Vegas police officer put him in a similar hold for more than a minute. The department recently approved a $2.2 million settlement in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Brown’s children.
Lawmakers are also expected to consider policy that could give the state attorney general’s office some oversight and investigative power over local police departments. That would probably include so-called “pattern or practice” investigations, which would focus on systemic problems as opposed to individual officers, similar to a review conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice into the Metropolitan Police Department’s practices in 2012.
The special session will address how the general election will be conducted this November.
Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said last week that she is planning for the state to return to in-person voting for the general election after using a nearly all-mail primary as a precaution to avoid spread of the coronavirus. Cegavske said her office doesn’t have the $4 million to $5 million needed to conduct another all-mail election. The state received about $5 million in federal relief to help offset those costs.
Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have pushed back against sending absentee ballots to all voters, arguing that it would lead to increased voter fraud, a claim that is largely unfounded and was twice rejected by a Nevada federal judge in a lawsuit challenging the state’s mail-in primary model.
Voting rights advocates worry that shifting back to an in-person election would limit voter access and are pushing for the Legislature to allow for a hybrid system that includes sending all active voters a ballot with prepaid postage and expanded in-person voting to avoid the long lines seen during the primaries.
There also could be a push to allow some form of ballot harvesting in Nevada, which would allow people to gather and turn in ballots on behalf of others who are not related to them. Advocates argue that it would be beneficial for tribal nations in the state who often don’t have traditional addresses.
“We need to make voting more accessible than ever, especially under these circumstances,” said Emily Zamora, executive director of the progressive-leaning civic access nonprofit Silver State Voices.
Workers and businesses
On the final day of the first special session, which focused entirely on addressing the state’s $1.2 billion budget deficit, Sisolak noted that the second special session would include policy issues relating to “working to ensure Nevadans, businesses, workers and the unemployed have the support they need” during the pandemic.
Sisolak has said that he plans to address the issues relating to the state’s overwhelmed unemployment system during the special session by “removing statutory barriers” that are hindering the program’s efficiency. But it’s not clear exactly what that will look like or how much it will speed up the process.
He has said he wants to stabilize businesses so they do not suffer further financial hits while also establishing some safety standards for workers.
Business groups, including the Vegas Chamber and the Nevada Resort Association, have pushed for the Legislature to enact liability protections for when workers or customers come down with COVID-19, warning that those potential lawsuits could hurt the economy further and force more businesses to close their doors for good.
A coalition of workers unions is pushing back against any such proposal.
“I think it’s outrageous that they would say in a pandemic that ‘we want to free ourselves of any liability,’ ” said Laura Martin, executive director of Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
The proclamation said that the session should end no later than midnight on Aug. 7, giving lawmakers one full week to finish its work.
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Sisolak Proclamation for 32nd Special Legislative Session. by SteveSebelius on Scribd