Nevada lawmakers wrap legislative session just in time
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada lawmakers ran down the clock on the 2021 legislative session on Monday, passing dozens of high-profile bills moments before the clock struck midnight and forced them to adjourn.
They passed bills to increase taxes on the mining industry, license cannabis lounges and overhaul state voting policies, change the date of the state’s presidential primary and mandate that all active voters be sent mail-in ballots in future elections.
The Legislature is next scheduled to meet in 2023, but will likely convene at least one special session to redraw the state’s legislative and congressional districts.
Here are notable measures that passed through both chambers on the final day of the legislative session and now head to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak for approval — plus several bills that died.
— The bill to send all active voters mail-in ballots for elections extends policies enacted during the pandemic to ensure voters worried about going to the polls could still cast ballots. The bill, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, also improves Nevada’s voter roll maintenance and signature verification procedures.
— Lawmakers changed the date and format of how each party picks its presidential nominee every four years. The measure would replace the Nevada’s caucuses with primaries and move the date to the first Tuesday of February each year there is a presidential election. The change needs to be approved by party officials and could set the stage for clashes with other early states unwilling to give up their place in the presidential candidate selection calendar.
— Earlier in the legislative session, Democrats promoted a bill to make Nevada the seventh state to offer a straight-ticket voting option to let voters check a box at the top of their ballots to chose a party’s entire slate of candidates. Fourteen Republican-majority state legislatures have abolished straight-ticket voting since 1994, while Michigan approved a measure to preserve the voting option in the 2018 “blue wave” election. The Nevada proposal was died as part of lawmakers’ negotiations over mining taxes.
— Lawmakers passed an eleventh-hour proposal to impose a new gross revenue tax on large Nevada silver and gold mines. The proposal, which Sisolak signaled he supports, will direct revenue from the state’s Net Proceeds on Minerals tax to a new education fund and add an excise tax of 0.75% on mines reporting gross revenue of $20 million to $150 million and 1.1% on mines that report any higher.
The bill passed after Republican lawmakers in both chambers agreed to support it because of provisions that added funding for charter schools and opportunity scholarships. The details of the tax measure, which will raise an estimated $85 million annually, were a byproduct of negotiations between lawmakers, mining lobbyists and the state’s largest teacher’s union.
The tax increase will effectively double the amount of taxes that mining businesses pay and are projected to generate $85 million annually. Their passage prevents five tax measures from advancing to the 2022 election — three mining tax proposals and two other initiatives that the Clark County Education Association gathered signatures to qualify for the ballot.
— A proposal to license cannabis lounges the state Senate Monday after clearing the Assembly last Thursday. The bill will allow on-site consumption of cannabis products at dispensaries or standalone lounges. Recreational cannabis is legal in Nevada, but no state laws permit its consumption in public, which has effectively limited consumption to private residences.
The bill prohibits lounges from being licensed within 1,500 feet (457 meters) of casinos. It is similar to a measure to regulate short-term vacation rentals, prohibiting them from being within 2,500 feet (762 meters) from hotels. Colorado and California allow cannabis lounges.
— Criminal justice reform advocates celebrated the passage of Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen’s proposal to decriminalize traffic violations and make them civil offenses. Under current law, minor traffic violations are criminal misdemeanors and people who miss court dates or don’t pay the fines can face jail time and criminal records. The bill cleared the Senate on Monday with a 20-1 vote, over objections from many local governments.
“GUN FREE” ZONES
— An MGM-backed proposal to strengthen penalties imposed on people who bring guns into certain resorts and casinos where they are prohibited was not introduced for a vote in the Assembly after it passed in the state Senate last week.
The policy would have allowed security officers at large resorts and casinos to call law enforcement to report visitors suspected of carrying weapons in firearm-free zones without being required to give them verbal warnings. Supporters said the measure would have prevented gun violence aligned firearm restriction enforcement on the Las Vegas Strip with what is in place for public schools and libraries. Democrats and Republicans opposed to the bill said police would be called about people of color at disproportionate rates. They also said the policy could create unnecessary and dangerous confrontations.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.