Committee Hearings Dominate Nev. Legislature

Apr 10, 2017

Credit Paul Boger

Education, criminal justice reform, increasing the use of renewable energy, those are just some of the issues lawmakers are trying to tackle this legislative session. With yet another legislative deadline looming in the days ahead, lawmakers are scrambling and working late into the evening in order to pass as much legislation out of committees as possible. That’s why Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick spoke to our political reporter Paul Boger, to learn the latest from Carson City.

Conversion Therapy Ban

Before legislative leaders placed floor action on hold, the Senate did approve a statewide ban on conversion therapy for minors. Senate Bill 201, introduced by Senator David Parks (D-Las Vegas), prohibits mental health practitioners from performing sexual orientation or gender identity conversion therapy on anybody under the age of 18.

Denounced by several medical and LGBT-rights organizations, the practice of conversion therapy has linked to depression, substance abuse and even suicide. So far five other states have passed similar legislation.

In a statement, Senator Parks said “conversion therapy is not therapy at all. It’s a dangerous practice that puts LGBT youth at greater risk of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide. That’s why it is opposed by nearly all mainstream medical organizations and why we should ban the practice permanently in Nevada. I urge the Assembly to quickly pass this bill.”

Deadline Prep

With the deadline to pass bills out of committee looming, lawmakers are holding marathon committee hearings to work through as much of the legislation as possible.

Here is a breakdown of some of these bills discussed over the past few days.

Utility Providers Offer Alternative Take on Alternative Energy Bills

Assembly Democrats have been taking a strong stance hoping to push the state towards greener, renewable energy. In recent weeks, the Assembly’s Committee on Commerce and Labor’s Subcommittee on Energy has been hearing a number of bills on the topic. Among those bills have been efforts to push the state to get 80 percent of its energy needs from renewable resources by the year 2040. The state’s current goal is to move towards

The bills were received positively during their initial hearings before the energy subcommittees, but in their most recent review, the legislation received its first official pushed back. Representatives from NV Energy – the state’s largest electricity provider – as well as representatives from the Nevada Resort Association argued that the legislation would force higher price utilities on consumers.

NV Energy offered an amendment that would call on the state to keep it current energy portfolio – 25 percent of electricity generation coming from renewables by 2025 – and provide protections for the company if it can’t meet the goal.

Lawmakers are also looking to reestablish Nevada’s dwindling rooftop solar industry by reinstating more favorable net metering rates. Changes to the state’s net metering policies effectively gutted the industry over the past 17 months.

However, officials with NV Energy have suggested another alternative. Under their amendment, the consumers would be eligible for a 20-year bill credit from the utility provider. At this point, the credit seems to be ambiguous. 

Community Colleges Independence

It’s tricky to summarize a nearly 300-page bill into a two-hour committee hearing, let alone a short blog post, but here goes. AB331 is an effort to completely revamp the way Nevada’s Community College is run. Sponsored by Assemblyman Ira Hansen (R-Sparks), AB331 would remove the state’s four community colleges from under the purview of the Nevada System of Higher Education and would create the new Nevada Board of Community Colleges.

During a hearing before the Assembly Education Committee, former community college presidents advocated on behalf of the bill. Through their collective presentations, they made a case in which community college funding is regularly shortchanged in favor of the state’s four-year institutions.

Yet, the community college systems current set of leaders voiced opposition to the bill. Chief among the complaints were concerns that the process would be both disruptive and expensive, pulling resources away from students.

“The intentions are good, but this is the wrong bill. Some of the language in the bill, it really goes beyond oversight and guidance and it almost runs like micromanagement,” said Chester Burton, President of Western Nevada College.

Opt-Out Sex Ed

Reno Assemblywoman Amber Joiner may have taken on one of the most controversial pieces of legislation this 2017 Legislative Session.

Essentially, AB348 would change the state’s sex education program by making families “opt-out” of the class instead of the state’s current policy of requiring families to “opt-in.” The measure would also set in stone the state’s sex-ed curriculum including abstinence as the best policy to avoid pregnancy, the effects of sexually transmitted diseases and what options a person has in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. It would also make students more familiar with different sexual orientations as well as gender identity.

Unsurprisingly, AB348 is facing considerable opposition. Many of parents at last week’s meeting felt the proposed changes to the state’s sex education curriculum go too far. Still, others maintained that parents should decide when and where their children received the information. The state’s school districts also voiced concern. A representative from the Nevada Association of School Super Intendents asked lawmakers to keep the state’s current policies.

Republican Bill Hearings

Despite the marathon committee sessions, not every bill is getting a hearing. Earlier in the week, Republican leaders expressed displeasure that some pieces of legislation sponsored by the GOP weren’t getting a hearing.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Las Vegas) said, “while the Assembly and Senate have found time to hear legislation concerning fish pedicures and marijuana massages, they have not found time to hear important legislation that would have a profound impact on the victims of violent crimes in Nevada. AB 58, AB 73, and SB 62 are important pieces of public policy that deserve not only a hearing but bipartisan support from every member of this legislature.  For political purposes, Democrats are not hearing these bills from Attorney General Adam Laxalt.  Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and children that are being subjected to sex trafficking deserve their day in the legislature.  I hope those in the majority will put policy above politics and immediately hold hearings and votes on each of these crucially important bills.”

Senator Roberson’s counterpart in the Assembly, Minority Leader Paul Anderson (R-Las Vegas) was less critical in tone.

On a side note, I think it’s important to mention that Assemblyman Jim Marchant, a Republican from Las Vegas, sponsored the fish pedicure bill.

LOOKING AHEAD

It seems to me that it is a pre-requisite for officeholders to wait as long as possible to take action before a legislative deadline. I have seen it from both parties; in both chambers and in both of the legislatures I have covered (Nevada and Mississippi). Lawmakers will continue to hold these hearings through the week and may actually even hold hearings up until the committee deadline at midnight on April 14.

So expect another long week.