CARSON CITY — With just hours remaining in the state legislative session, controversial bills to allow food service in bars that permit smoking and allow for construction of a toll road around Boulder City were advanced by lawmakers.
Another bill that would have made it easier for concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on college and university campuses wasn’t so lucky Sunday.
Nevada smokers soon may be able to light up in bars and taverns — and enjoy meals — under a bill passed by a narrow 23-19 vote Sunday in the Assembly.
The bill, sought by tavern and bar owners who contend their business income has dropped since the passage of the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act in 2006, must now go through hearings and a vote in the state Senate. Time is running out for them, however, because the Legislature adjourns at 1 a.m. Tuesday.
Under the act approved by voters, bars, taverns and restaurants were prevented from serving food to patrons if they allowed smoking. The Legislature may amend voter-approved laws after three years.
Assembly Bill 571, if it becomes law, would allow smoking and meals in bars and taverns if they prohibit any patrons under 21. Taverns still could construct “completely enclosed” sections with separate entrances for children and adults who want to eat in a smoke-free environment. They also can construct separate buildings that would be smoke free.
“People over the age of 21 who are already smoking should have a choice over whether or not they want food in a bar,” said Sean Higgins, a lobbyist for tavern owners. Violations of the law would be misdemeanors, but there also would be a $1,000 fine if establishment employees allowed patrons under 21 to loiter in a smoking area.
SB506 lifts provisions that prohibit toll roads in Nevada for the purpose of a potential project around Boulder City.
It was originally part of SB214 by state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, which died earlier in the session. It was revived and packed into SB506 along with other measures. The bill was discussed in the Senate Finance Committee.
Hardy said the bill is important because it will create construction jobs and a way for traffic to bypass congestion between Phoenix and Las Vegas.
“This has become the new bottleneck for traffic,” Hardy said.
But state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, sought changes to ensure that if the Southern Nevada Regional Transportation Commission enters into a partnership with a private company to build the toll road, state taxpayers aren’t on the hook if the project flops.
“I’m not comfortable with just a hope and a promise,” Horsford said before the committee moved the bill. “That language needs to be beefed up.”
The toll road bill was included with another proposal from Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, which reduced the amount of money school districts have to hold in bond reserves to free up more money for school construction.
Smith’s proposal had been part of AB183, which Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed earlier, and came back in SB506 after the Legislature and Sandoval reached a budget compromise.
“I feel like this is the day of the living dead,” Smith said.
A bill that would make it easier for people with concealed weapons permits to carry guns on Nevada’s college and university campuses probably won’t make it out of the Legislature, much to the dismay of an assault victim who made a last-ditch attempt to sway lawmakers.
SB231 didn’t get a vote Sunday morning in the Assembly Committee on Judiciary despite earlier comments by Chairman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, who said he wouldn’t block the bill.
“I’m not going to bring it up,” Horne said after the committee recessed Sunday without voting on the measure.
Amanda Collins, a concealed weapons permit holder who was without her gun the night in 2007 when she was sexually assaulted by James Biela in a University of Nevada, Reno parking garage, attended the judiciary meeting hoping to persuade Horne to hold a vote.
Three months after Collins’ assault, Biela kidnapped and killed another student, Brianna Denison. He was sentenced to death last year.
Collins said if SB231 — which would have lifted a requirement that weapons permit holders get permission from a college president or police chief to take their gun on campus — had been the law when she was attacked, she might have been able to fend off Biela and prevent him from attacking other women.
The bill passed the state Senate 15-6 and Collins was disappointed Horne wouldn’t bring it up for a vote in the Assembly committee.
“Reliving this is not easy for me,” said Collins, who shed her anonymity as an assault victim to testify publicly in support of the bill. “It seems mean to make someone relive something so horrific and not have it brought for a vote.”