January 30, 2021 - 9:00 pm
Physicians are told, “First, do no harm.” The adage could just as well apply to lawmakers.
The 81st session of the Nevada Legislature convenes Monday. More so than in perhaps any other legislative gathering in state history does “do no harm” apply, as the state attempts to pick itself up after being bloodied by the coronavirus pandemic. With Nevada still under closures, lockdowns and other virus-related restrictions, the focus in Carson City must be on improving and maintaining the Silver State’s reputation as a business-friendly locale and further nurturing a tax and regulatory environment conducive to encouraging economic growth and job creation.
Despite losing seats in both houses during the November election, Democrats maintained majorities in both the Assembly and Senate. While state finances are healthier than many projected last summer, prudence remains vital. Even if Nevada finagles a federal bailout, the one-shot infusion will create long-term shortfalls if it is built into the baseline spending plan. Democratic leaders have apparently refused to embrace the woefully misguided effort by the Clark County Education Association to raise both the gaming tax and the sales tax. That’s a positive development. But expect another push to jack up the mining tax. If lawmakers are insistent on flogging that horse, they should at least ensure any increase be approved by state voters.
Minority Republicans have an opportunity to move legislation designed to promote job creation and pare back the administrative state. The pandemic has already led to a number of common-sense reforms when it comes to health care, including the realization that laws preventing telemedicine aren’t in the best interest of many consumers. Lawmakers on both sides have tinkered at the margins in recent sessions when it comes to occupational licensing, but the current need for economic revival marks a perfect time for a more aggressive approach to clearing the thicket of protectionist mandates that deter entrepreneurship.
The two parties may also find common ground on questions of executive power. Gov. Steve Sisolak has enjoyed considerable latitude in issuing edicts during this public health crisis because lawmakers have given him the power to do so with minimal legislative supervision. A review of the governor’s emergency powers is clearly warranted — at least three bill draft requests on this topic are in the works — to ensure that checks are in place to discourage excesses. Democrats who feel reluctant to act because one of their own currently occupies the Governor’s Mansion should consider where they might stand if that weren’t the case.
Republicans and Democrats could also come together on matters of criminal justice reform, particularly in the area of civil forfeiture, which often targets the underprivileged who lack the resources to fight back. Nevada has made some progress in this area in recent years, but it remains an injustice that Nevadans may lose their homes, cars and other property without having ever been charged, let alone convicted, of any crime. Forfeiture laws were intended to separate criminal kingpins from the ill-gotten gains but are now too often used against those who are least-equipped to challenge property or cash seizures. Some states in recent years have mandated a criminal conviction as a condition for initiating forfeiture proceedings. Nevada should join them.
Finally, lawmakers in 2019 pushed a landmark public records bill across the finish line to put more teeth into the statute and to discourage bureaucratic noncompliance. Make no mistake, there are likely to be efforts to roll back those protections for accountability and transparency. Lawmakers of both parties must give no quarter to proposals that seek to obstruct the availability of public information, no matter how noble the supposed intentions.
First, do no harm.