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STEVE SEBELIUS: Looking back at 2019’s Legislature

For Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, the 2019 session had one significant difference from previous legislatures, something she hadn’t seen in a career that stretches back two decades.

For the first time, Nevada’s governor and his staff reached out to members of the Legislature, asking how they might help in passing bills.

That might have something to do with the fact that Nevada has its first Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak, in 20 years. Not only that, Nevada hadn’t seen Democrats in control of both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion since 1991.

But the change was a welcome one, Carlton said at a post-legislative wrap-up forum hosted by the liberal group Battle Born Progress last week. (Disclosure: The group asked me to speak at the event as well.)

The single-party control might account for the long list of legislative successes Democrats boasted about at the event, everything from criminal justice reform to education funding, to election reform, to reversing some bills approved by Republicans when they controlled the Legislature and Governor’s Mansion in 2015.

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, state Sens. Yvanna Cancela and Melanie Scheible, and Assemblywomen Sandra Jauregui and Carlton told a crowd crammed into the Battle Born Progress offices about some of the bills they’d passed in 2019.

Jauregui, a survivor of the Route 91 festival mass shooting in October 2017, recalled the fight to pass her gun control measure, Assembly Bill 291, which bans bump stocks, requires safe storage of firearms and lowers the blood-alcohol content for legal gun possession to .08. Most controversially, the bill allows a family member or law-enforcement officer to ask a judge to take away the guns of those who show signs they may hurt others.

Gun rights groups — many of whose members believe incorrectly that any gun-control measure violates the Second Amendment — were able to mobilize thousands of people in opposition to the bill. But supporters mobilized, too, and the bill passed on party-line votes with one Democrat (Skip Daly of Sparks) joining Republicans in opposition.

Jauregui said she was disappointed that a provision of the bill allowing local governments to pass even stricter gun laws was stripped out of her bill during the process. But she pledged to return in 2021 to try to get that rule enacted, too.

Frierson said he was particularly proud of Assembly Bill 431, which restores the right to vote for people convicted of felonies once they’re released from prison. If a person had done his time, and is now expected to work, pay taxes and contribute to society, then that person should have a voice in how government runs, he said.

“We don’t believe in throwaway people,” Frierson said. “We have to believe in second chances.”

Cancela touted her bill to mandate transparency in the pricing of asthma drugs, following on a 2017 bill that forces drug companies to explain the costs of diabetes drugs. Senate Bill 262 doesn’t set drug prices, but the theory is it will hold prices down.

Cancela referred to the now-viral video of Jimmy McMillan, a New York City resident who founded The Rent Is Too Damn High Party. “I think drug prices are too damn high,” Cancela said, referring to increases in prices for drugs for asthma, which she said affect Nevadans more than the national average.

“That doesn’t make sense,” she said. “That’s profiteering on a public health crisis. That is wrong.”

Carlton said she achieved one of her longtime goals: collective bargaining for state employees. The bill in question — Senate Bill 135 — would leave the final decision on contracts in the hands of the governor, but political pressure to grant state workers’ demands will be high.

“I can retire happy now,” said Carlton, chairwoman of the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the state’s longest-serving female lawmaker.

Scheible, a freshman, said the biggest lesson of her first session was learning to navigate the complex relationships in Carson City. “You have to have a really strong moral compass to go up to the Legislature and do your job,” she said. That’s especially true when you have to say no to people one day, but seek their help on bills the next, she said.

Cancela, toward the end of the meeting, offered some advice to the crowd: Nevadans need to realize when they complain about problems the state faces that solutions are often costly. So when you complain about a problem, she said, ask yourself: What you are willing to do to solve it? Are you willing to pay more in sales taxes, property taxes or fees? Because solving problems is rarely, if ever, free.

That’s some good advice right there.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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