Legislative Priorities Are Taking Shape

Feb 24, 2017

Credit Paul Boger

With the 2017 legislative session in full swing, lawmakers are working to tackle a variety of issues. Democrats are presenting a united front to ease access to the polls, increase the minimum wage and protect heath care. For Republicans, the goal seems to be to protect and enhance the reforms made during last session.

Nevada lawmakers have been working for about three weeks now, and as bills make their way through the committee process, legislative priorities are becoming clear.

Back in control of both the Assembly and the Senate, Democrats recently unveiled the newest iteration of their "Nevada Blueprint." Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford of Las Vegas says the agenda lays the framework for the next 102 days of the session.

"Our goal is to empower families in this state and that's not just rhetoric,” said Ford. “In each and every principle in our blueprint you will find at least one bill associated with that this legislative session."

The agenda itself is similar to one published in 2015. It focuses on drafting bills that expand childcare for working families, boost workforce development and preserve public lands. They also want to reform public education funding and protect Nevadans with healthcare under the Affordable Care Act in case the federal law is repealed.

"I represent the urban core and we have lots of folks who are making well below the median wage, who are struggling to afford their housing, who are facing challenges to be able to achieve the opportunity that all Nevadans should have," says Freshman Democratic Senator Julia Ratti of Sparks.

But Republicans are already gearing up for a fight. On the same day Democrats released their "Blueprint," Assembly Republicans released their agenda, otherwise known as their "Battle Born Priorities." It outlines goals implementing and funding Education Savings Accounts, protecting the second amendment and creating more government accountability.

For Republican Senator Don Gustavson of Sparks their goal is to play defense, especially on school vouchers.

"Our top priorities are to maintain the bills that we passed last session,” says Gustavson. “I think that we had several really good bills that we did get passed especially the Education Savings Accounts. So I'd like to protect that as much as we can."

Despite their intentions, Republicans don't have many options to stop the majority. However, Democrats don't have the numbers to override a gubernatorial veto of potentially controversial bills. One of the most contentious thus far is the idea of increasing the minimum wage. Republicans and business groups adamantly oppose the change, and majority leadership, including Speaker Jason Frierson, are hesitant to voice support.

"What we are supporting is having this conversation. Where we end up and what ultimately is best I think we can arrive to after we hear from all of the stakeholders on how it impacts them. That's what the hearings process is for and by starting that conversation I think we'll get some valuable insight and find out how it actually impacts business and how we can help families."

Assemblyman Ira Hansen is unsure Governor Sandoval has the political will to use his veto pen on much of the Democratic agenda including minimum wage.

"I hope that the governor returns to the conservative governor that I knew in 2011 and 2013 and not the much more liberal governor that we saw in 2015. Right now it's a crap-shoot. We don't know."

Along with not knowing how the Governor will fit into the larger legislative picture, lawmakers now also need to focus on what role the new federal administration will play in the state especially when it comes to healthcare and recreational marijuana.