It's A Wrap: Nev. Lawmakers Pass Budget, Pot Taxes

Jun 6, 2017

The 79th Regular Session of the Nevada Legislature is officially over. After 120 days, lawmakers have wheeled, dealed, debated and ultimately passed hundreds of bills as well as a budget worth billions of dollars over the next two years. Reno Public Radio’s Paul Boger reports.

Credit Alexa Ard

With the swing of a gavel, lawmakers adjourned the 79th session of the Nevada legislature Tuesday morning, just a few minutes past 12.

For many, the session has been a long, and oftentimes contentious, four months. Over that time, lawmakers dealt with everything from criminal justice reform to increasing renewable energy standards across the state to revamping how education officials handle Nevada’s lowest performing schools. They also passed a 10-percent excise tax structure for recreational marijuana that could add more than $120 million to the state’s rainy day fund.

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford says his party, which held majority in both chambers, delivered on many of their promises.

“Well, I think if you take a look at the Nevada Blueprint, you’ll see that we’ve passed a plethora of bills that are focused on hardworking Nevadans,” Ford said. “We came into the session saying we were going to focus on trying to make the lives of hardworking Nevadans better. The bills that we’ve been able to get passed and sent to the governor, and hopefully to get signed, will improve the lives of everyday people, and we’re very proud of that.”

Democrats took steps for supporting equal rights this session by tackling measures that include ratifying the long-stalled Equal Rights Amendment, which places guarantees of equal rights for women in the US constitution. They also voted to protect family planning services in more rural parts of the state.

Freshman Democratic Senator Julia Ratti of Sparks says she’s pleased with the push for greater rights for all.

“Whether that be access to contraception and preventative healthcare, whether that be the ERA, whether that be some of the many other issues that affected women, so certainly that’s a big issue,” Ratti said. “I would also point to equality in general to the LGBTQ community. There’s just so many wins in terms of securing their rights and recognizing their status, and making sure that we are a fair and just state. So I’m really proud of a lot of that work.”

And while Democratic leaders are celebrating the passage of much of their agenda, Republicans are taking stock of the session. With too few GOP members to advance their own priorities, Republicans were forced to take what compromise they could.

A prime example of that would be the recent fight over funding for Education Savings Accounts, which they ultimately lost. Yet for Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson, the loss wasn’t all doom and gloom.

“We couldn’t get there on ESAs. We’re all disappointed,” Anderson said. “That shouldn’t negate the accomplishments that we did do, which certainly was making sure that we blocked or upheld our promises on 2015 reforms not being rolled back, that we were strong in making sure that good policy moved forward and bad policy didn’t, and at the same time, we accomplished our goals on expanding school choice.”

The members of the more conservative wing of the Republican caucus, on the other hand, were not as happy with the session’s outcome. Many felt that the failure to pass ESAs, as well as a willingness by Republican leaders like Governor Brian Sandoval to make a budget deal, put an additional sour note on the end of the session.

For Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks, it was the session’s biggest disappointment.

“I really thought that was something that we were really going to stand firm on,” Hansen said. “The governor committed to us that he was 100% with us. And then at the last minute, he just yanked the rug out from under us, and we got a token compromise, but nothing like it should have been.”

That token compromise that Hansen is referring to is a $20 million appropriation to the Opportunity Scholarship – another school choice program. That amount falls far short of the $60 million Republicans wanted for ESAs.

Try as they might, though, the conservative ultimatum to prevent the passage of a budget ended Monday afternoon, when Governor Sandoval signed four of the five major spending bills with an intent to approve the final measure when it becomes available.

Sandoval says ESA funding wasn’t the end-all, be-all of the session. He says there needed to be compromise.

“You know, the reality of it was that the Democrats had dug in and, no matter what it was, they weren’t going to support that. There were some moments that I thought we could get it done,” Sandoval said, “and at the end of the day, it didn’t happen. As I said, I’m not going to be redundant in terms of hoping that in future legislative sessions that we can get the money for that.”

Despite the governor’s willingness to compromise on the budget, he has proven willing to veto many of the bills passed by the Democratic majority, especially those approved on party line votes. So while lawmakers are packing up their offices and heading back to their respective homes, it will still be a few days until we know exactly how the 2017 session shakes out.

Edit: The previous online version of this story contained a typo indicating that lawmakers passed a 21-percent excise tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. The correct number is 10-percent. The correct amount was reported accurately when the story aired.