The first major deadline to pass bills at the Nevada Legislature has come and gone, and with it, 262 pieces of legislation have fallen.
Now, bear in mind, nothing in Carson City is really dead until the final gavel falls, and amendments can still revive some of the ideas on the dead bill list, if not the bills themselves. Not only that, but similar language in a dead bill is often mirrored in a bill that managed to beat the deadline.
The next hurdle is for bills to pass out of the house where they originated to the opposite house, which comes on April 21. But first, let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly in the aftermath of Friday’s vetting, including one bill you just might not believe.
• A long overdue ban on lobbyists giving gifts to lawmakers passed in the form of Senate Bill 307, by Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson. Not only does the bill define “gifts,” but it also includes a requirement for candidates to file campaign fundraising paperwork monthly during election years. The measure isn’t perfect —“educational trips” are still allowed, if disclosed, and there’s no reason not to have real-time disclosure of contributions —but it’s a hell of a lot better than what we’ve got now.
• Senate Bill 111, which requires uniformed police officers who routinely interact with the public to wear body cameras, passed with amendments suggested by law enforcement. With incidents in Ferguson, Mo., Brooklyn, N.Y. and North Charleston, S.C., and elsewhere, the use of body cameras in police departments is becoming quite routine. In fact, the public would probably be surprised to find that many officers support their use, inasmuch as they provide a defense against false complaints. Now, if the Legislature would only provide funds so there are more bodies on local police forces to which we could affix cameras…
• After it was reveled that a young woman committed suicide in Clark County because of bullying that her parents were never told about, we needed a bill like Senate Bill 504. The bill as amended provides for discipline against principals, school officials and teachers who fail to take action in bullying or cyberbullying cases, and declares flatly “the Legislature hereby declares that the members of a board of trustees and all administrators and teachers of a school district have a duty to create and provide a safe and respectful learning environment for all pupils that is free of bullying and cyber-bullying.” It also provides for a state hotline to report bullying cases.
• A few former lawmakers — including two ex-Assembly speakers and a majority leader — have returned to Carson City to act as lobbyists. Under Assembly Bill 273, by Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, a former lawmaker couldn’t lobby his or her former colleagues for at least two years after leaving office. The bill makes an exception for a person whose post-session job includes a lobbying requirement as part of the job, but limits the former lawmaker to lobbying only for his or her new boss, and for no one else. It’s another common sense reform that’s long overdue.
• Assembly Bill 212, which originally proposed to eliminate the statute of limitations entirely on sexual assault, was amended to extend the current statute (four years) to a much-longer 20 years.
• For people suffering from terminal illnesses, new and experimental drugs may offer a glimmer of hope where none exists. That’s the idea behind Assembly Bill 164, a bipartisan bill that would allow so-called “investigational” drugs or devices to be used by people whom a doctor has given one year or less to live and to whom he or she has prescribed the experimental treatment.
• Senate Bill 245, by state Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, would increase penalties for people who flee from accident scenes, which is an increasingly common crime in Las Vegas. Under the bill, the penalties would match those for driving under the influence causing bodily harm or death, under the theory that people who flee accidents do so primarily to avoid being charged with a DUI at the scene. It’s a badly needed bill, especially in urban Las Vegas, where hit-and-runs are becoming an almost daily staple of the news.
• Senate Bill 168 would allow local governments, except school districts, to re-open collective bargaining agreements during times of “fiscal emergency,” defined as times when revenues decline by 5 percent, or when an ending fund balance ends up at 4 percent or less. The bill also specifies that an ending fund balance of 25 percent or less of a local government’s budget can’t be considered by an arbitrator when he or she deciding whether a local government has the ability to pay for a proposed labor agreement.
• A few bills that failed also qualify under “good,” including Senate Bill 143 (carrying concealed weapons without a permit), Senate Bill 352 (attempting to enjoin the enforcement of certain provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 in the state), Assembly Bill 397 (which sought to limit the use of SWAT teams in serving search warrants, as well as prohibit police departments from seeking or accepting military-style equipment under a Defense Department program) and Assembly Bill 408 (a public lands bill which was identified as unconstitutional by the Legislature’s chief lawyer, but which passed after it was was heavily amended to a much less dangerous form).
• Assembly Bill 280 tips the collective bargaining balance too far, by essentially allowing local governments to opt out of the process altogether. (The only exception, under a last-minute amendment, is for police officers.) The bill may not change anything, given the political power of public employee unions, but it sets the precedent that the right to organize and collectively bargain isn’t guaranteed in the state any longer.
• Senate Bill 436 requires any person who intends to conduct voter-registration drives or sign up more than 50 people to vote in a given year to register with the secretary of state’s office, as well as sign up to become a “field registrar.” It’s an additional hurdle for organizers that’s just not necessary.
• Senate Bill 434 creates a Byzantine process to qualify an initiative petition for the ballot, in which the secretary of state in consultation with the attorney general writes the title and description of effect for a proposed petition before it can be circulated. It’s hard enough to propose laws in Nevada as it is without the Legislature adding unnecessary steps.
• Assembly Bill 413 seeks to abrogate Dillon’s Rule, the legal principle that says local governments have only those powers expressly granted to them by the state, or those that can be inferred and/or are necessary for carrying out those expressly granted powers. The bill seeks to allow local governments to do anything not prohibited by state or federal constitutions, except raise taxes and fees. Home rule is a sore subject in Nevada, but this bill may push the balance too far.
• Assembly Bill 148 would allow for carrying concealed weapons on the campuses of the Nevada System of Higher Education, public or private schools, child care facilities, the non-secure areas of airports and public buildings that don’t have metal detectors and “no firearms allowed” signs.
It’s also “bad,” that several good bills failed to pass, including Senate Bill 336 (which would have allowed terminally ill patients to end their lives with the assistance of a doctor), Assembly Bill 168 (which would have required slow-driving mopeds to stay to the right of faster-moving cars), Assembly Joint Resolution 6 (the latest attempt to amend the state constitution to allow for a lottery), Senate Bill 117 (which would have made HPV vaccines mandatory to enroll in school) and Senate Bill 259, which would have required paid sick leave for employees in Nevada. Oh, and Senate Joint Resolution 8 — which would have raised the minimum wage in Nevada to $15 or $16 per hour, depending on whether a business provided health care to its workers — also failed, although a Republican-backed measure (Senate Bill 193) raising the wage for some workers while changing the basis for calculating overtime, beat the deadline and passed the Senate on a party-line vote.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee spent a few unpleasant hours on the morning of the bill-passage deadline debating Assembly Bill 375, which prohibits transgender kids from using the bathroom of their gender identity. (It does allow schools to attempt to find a reasonable alternative, such as a faculty lounge bathroom.) And parental notification for abortion was the subject of another emotional debate in Assembly Bill 405. (The sponsor of the latter measure, Assembly Speaker John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, had agreed to allow his abortion bill to be the subject of an interim study before the Judiciary Committee, led by Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, called it up for a hearing.) It’s unlikely either bill will make it to the governor’s desk.
And the slightly unbelievable
For years, conservatives have called for breaking up the Clark County School District into smaller units, under the theory that the sprawling organization (the nation’s sixth-largest) would function more efficiently. But although those ideas have resulted in a change in the way the district is organized internally, the idea of an actual breakup hasn’t gained purchase. In part, that’s due to a state statute that stipulates that the boundaries of each school district are to be the same as the county that it serves.
But now, Assemblyman David Gardner, R-Las Vegas, has proposed an intriguing idea that has actually gained some Democratic support. Assembly Bill 394 would create at least five “local school precincts” within the Clark County School District, each governed separately. But the district would continue to exist, in conformance with state law.
Under the bill, a committee would study governance, funding, English-language learner services and services for less well-off and disabled students in the five new precincts. The committee’s findings would be vetted in six town-hall meetings held all over Clark County, and reported back to the Legislature. The goal would be to implement the plan in the 2017-2018 school year, unless it could be done earlier.
(It’s similar in some ways to the California model, in which the state Department of Education sets overall policies, which are carried out by county offices of education and individual school districts that serve cities or groups of cities.)
Gardner’s idea has gained support from some Democratic lawmakers, although school district officials said they are opposed (and will most likely try to kill or amend the proposal later in the process). But the bill’s passage over the original deadline is the furthest the school-district breakup plan has ever come in the Legislature, a testament to the fact that work on the measure has been going on behind the scenes for months.
See all of our coverage: 2015 Nevada Legislature.