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Smoke ’em if you got ’em: Bar bill passes late

CARSON CITY — Smokers in Nevada bars won’t have to put down their cigarettes to pick up a french fry under a bill approved in a late-night vote by state lawmakers.

The state Senate voted 13-8 in favor of Assembly Bill 571, which would allow bars that permit smoking to once again serve food. The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who hasn’t said whether he will sign it.

The smoking bill was one of several late-breaking measures, some controversial, in the final hours of the session. The Assembly adjourned at 12:59 a.m. today , a minute shy of the state-mandated deadline. The state Senate concluded its action items by 1 a.m. today, but state senators continued to make speeches.

Other bills included a measure to aid public financing for stadium projects, which failed; reforms to collective bargaining for local government employees, which passed; and a bill to regulate self-driving automobiles, which passed.

A bill that would redirect to the state a share of the money from unclaimed slot machine tickets also won last-minute approval.

Another bill to allow for a public-private toll road bypass around Boulder City cleared the Senate 21-0. It cleared the Assembly by a vote of 29-13 in the last hour of the session after a third vote.

SMOKING BAN EASED

AB571 modifies provisions of the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, which voters approved in 2006 to clear smoke from grocery stores, restaurants and other public places, except for casinos and some bars.

Under the measure, bar owners were forced to close their kitchens to allow smoking, something they said cost them revenue and wasn’t what the voters intended.

Under AB571, bars that allow smoking also would be allowed to serve food if they offer enclosed, smoke-free spaces and prohibit people younger than age 21 from entering.

“Everyone I explained it to said it made sense,” said Sean Higgins, a lobbyist for the Nevada Tavern Owners Association, which led lobbying efforts for the bill.

Opponents included the American Cancer Society and others who said it would endanger the health of people working in bars.

“It moves our state backward in terms of health care and tobacco,” said state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.

NO HELP FOR STADIUM PROJECTS

The failure of Senate Bill 501 in the Legislature on Monday means all three proposals for stadium projects in Las Vegas will need to go back to the drawing board for financing.

Lobbyists for the Las Vegas arena proposals unsuccessfully spent the day trying to cut deals. SB501 contained three proposals for “facility districts” that would have diverted taxpayer money to help finance one of three potential stadium projects in Las Vegas: one near Mandalay Bay, another in downtown Las Vegas and a third on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus.

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich said the development puts a damper on plans for the UNLV proposal.

“I wouldn’t just foreclose the possibility, but I think that projects of this magnitude need this type of legislation,” Klaich said.

The bill ran into trouble in the Assembly Taxation Committee, led by Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, where members were skeptical of the proposal.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

The state Senate approved two reforms to laws on collective bargaining by local government employees.

The changes were included in an amendment the Senate adopted by voice vote and were part of the budget deal between the Democrat-controlled Legislature and Sandoval.

Under the reforms, local government employees with the ability to hire and fire or participate in labor contract negotiations from the management side won’t be covered by collective bargaining.

“If you hire, fire or discipline, you are out,” said Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, who was on the conference committee and led Assembly Republican negotiations seeking the changes.

The reforms also require local governments and unions to include in labor contracts provisions to reopen the deals in a fiscal emergency. The reform provides a way for local government to avoid being saddled with overly burdensome contracts during times when revenue is falling.

State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, supported the bill but said it could have been better.

“It really doesn’t touch collective bargaining like many of us thought it would, but it is a step in the right direction,” Roberson said.

UNCLAIMED SLOT TICKETS

The state Senate voted 14-7 in favor of AB219, which allows the state to take money in the form of unclaimed slot machine tickets.

The bill could generate as much as $35 million for the 2011-13 biennium.

The measure had been opposed by the Nevada Resort Association until it became clear the money was needed to balance the state budget.

The bill was only possible because of the advent of slot machines that issue tickets for cash inserted or winnings.

Casino customers often don’t redeem tickets for small amounts that then revert to the casino.

If Sandoval signs the bill, the state would collect 75 percent, and the casino would keep 25 percent.

It passed the Assembly 40-2 on Sunday.

SELF-DRIVING CARS

A bill that would allow self-driving automobiles on Nevada roads was passed by the state Senate.

AB511, the so-called “Google car” bill, came at the behest of the Internet search giant, which was seeking a place to legally test drive remote-controlled vehicles.

The computer-controlled cars are the subject of research by Google, but the company needed a state that would allow them to be licensed and regulated.

The legislation, if signed into law by Sandoval, would make Nevada the first state to take such an action and potentially lead to more high technology research and jobs in the state.

“Usually the law follows the technology,” said David Goldwater, a lobbyist hired to advocate for AB511. “In this case the law is getting ahead of the technology.”

TOLL ROAD

The Legislature early today passed a bill that would lift a state prohibition on toll roads to allow for development of a bypass around Boulder City .

SB506 also included a measure to reduce the amount of money school districts need to keep in bond reserves to free up cash for more capital projects.

The bill failed two votes in the Assembly but passed after a third vote of 29-13.

In another last-minute maneuver, Democrats in the Assembly dropped AB582, which would have put earlier proposals to create a 1 percent service and 0.8 percent business revenue tax on the ballot for voter consideration.

The move riled Republicans, who went into caucus and vowed to oppose the measure. Democratic leaders, however, pulled the measure from the agenda.

“We could have had an adult conversation about revenue and real fiscal reform months ago,” said Assemblyman Mark Sherwood, R-Henderson. “Instead the Democrats tried to sneak in the largest tax increase in the history of the state with less than three hours left in the session.”

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at
bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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