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Nevada Legislature ends amid Democrats’ work on wish list

June 4, 2019
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Nevada state senators listen as Senator Nicole Cannizzaro makes a push for the education bill 551 during the last day of the 2019 Nevada Legislative session on Monday, June 3, 2019, in Carson City, Nev. (Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal via AP)
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Nevada state senators listen as Senator Nicole Cannizzaro makes a push for the education bill 551 during the last day of the 2019 Nevada Legislative session on Monday, June 3, 2019, in Carson City, Nev. (Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal via AP)

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Democrats who waited 27 years to control the governor’s mansion and the statehouse used the legislative session that ended Monday to pass a lengthy progressive wish list and revamp education funding.

Lawmakers wrapped up at midnight after giving final approval to a two-year, $28 billion state budget that gives state workers and teachers a pay raise, a promise of Gov. Steve Sisolak.

Within hours, the union representing 11,000 teachers in Las Vegas pointed to a strike authorization vote last month and said a walkout was still possible if classroom funding is cut and the Clark County School District fails to approve raises.

Teacher strikes are illegal in the state.

“We know (the district) did not receive all the funds it had requested and will have to modify its budget for the next school year,” Clark County Education Association spokesman Keenan Korth said in a statement.

Democrats wielded their two-thirds supermajority in the Assembly and near-supermajority in the Senate to toughen gun laws, raise the minimum wage to $12, up from $8.25, overhaul criminal justice bills to cut prison populations and grant state-workers the right to collectively bargain.

The Legislature, the nation’s first with a majority of women, considered more than a dozen bills on sexual misconduct and rewrote rules on abortion, removing requirements that a doctor tell a woman about the “emotional implications” of an abortion and make note of whether she is married.

In the final days, Democrats pushed through a bill despite Republican objections that extended a payroll tax set to expire this year. The controlling party sought to use more than $100 million generated by the tax to boost school safety programs, deliver Sisolak’s promised teacher raises and fund other efforts.

Republicans argued the state had other money available. They also contended the state Constitution required a two-thirds vote to extend the tax.

Legislative lawyers disagreed and Democrats passed the bill on a majority vote, which Republican Assemblyman Jim Wheeler of Minden dubbed “an unprecedented disregard for the constitution.”

One of the most contentious debates came over gun control in the wake of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. Survivors attended a marathon hearing over a bill to expand background checks on private gun sales and transfers. Republicans, who uniformly opposed the bill, argued it would infringe on Second Amendment rights and not prevent mass shootings.

Supporters acknowledged the bill would not have stopped the Las Vegas gunman from obtaining his weapons but said it was an important step to prevent gun violence. The governor quickly signed it into law.

Lawmakers also approved another gun bill with a so-called “red flag” provision that allow guns to be removed from people seen as a threat to themselves or others. The measure also bans bump stock devices, which mimic the firing of a fully automatic weapon and were used by the Las Vegas gunman.

Democrats were rocked by the resignation of two high-ranking legislators amid scandals, and the death of an assemblyman. Tyrone Thompson died May 4 at age 51 while receiving emergency treatment. His cause of death has not been made public.

Thompson’s death followed the resignations in March of former Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson and Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle.

Sprinkle quit amid “growing sexual harassment” claims, though further details were never made public.

A week earlier, Atkinson tearfully resigned, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and admitted misusing at least $250,000 in campaign contributions to lease a luxury SUV, open a Las Vegas nightclub and pay for other expenses.

He was replaced by Nicole Cannizzaro, who became the first woman in the role. She introduced in the final days of the session a campaign finance bill to clarify the rules about personal use of campaign funds and banning candidates from paying themselves a salary with contributions. The measure passed minutes before lawmakers adjourned.

Other items on progressive wish-lists failed to advance. Two bills to ban the death penalty did not receive committee hearings, and a proposal that would have allowed terminal patients to take their own lives with medication prescribed by a doctor failed to clear a key deadline.

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