Nev. Lawmakers Make A Deal At The Eleventh Hour

Jun 5, 2017

The clock is running out at the Nevada Legislature, with lawmakers facing a midnight deadline to close out a state budget for the next two years. 

Last week, a partisan meltdown over the failure to pass a tax on the sale of recreational marijuana (and the subsequent pulling of funds for a controversial school voucher program, known as education savings accounts) has left many wondering whether Governor Brian Sandoval will be forced to call a special session. 

To find out more, we turn to Reno Public Radio’s Political Reporter Paul Boger for the latest from Carson City.

The scene at the Nevada legislature over the weekend as a group of GOP lawmakers gets counsel on an amendment.
Credit Paul Boger

KUNR: Paul, thanks for joining me. Now, I know you’ve been up all night as most legislators have. It’s been a couple of stressful days in the legislature, correct?

That is absolutely correct. You know, today marks the final day of the 2017 legislative session.  Sine die is at midnight Monday, and there are some things lawmakers are required by law to pass before they can adjourn, namely a balanced budget.

A couple days ago, lawmakers were working on that budget—lawmakers in the senate, specifically—when, Senate Republicans decided they weren’t going to vote for a 10-percent excise tax on recreational marijuana, which led to a tit-for-tat in the senate, which led to speculation that the governor would call a special session if the balanced budget isn’t passed. We were up late over the last few days trying to find out what the deal would be and at about 11 pm Sunday night, the senate finally started working on that deal.

KUNR: What kind of deal came out of all of this drama?

So essentially, Democrats in the senate agreed to put more than $20 million in tax credits into a school choice scholarship fund known as the Opportunity Scholarships. That’s in place of funding education savings accounts.

In exchange, some Republicans agreed to vote in favor of a 10-percent excise tax on the sale of recreational marijuana, which is what started this all in the first place.

There are other funding measures as well. There’s a $25 million, one-time expenditure for the UNLV medical school. There’s about a $6 million give to the Washoe County Schools to act as a stop-gap for them. They’ve been having budget problems over there for the past few years, so that’s going to help them quite a bit.

And with both sides appeased, Republicans and Democrats were able to pass that capital improvements bill, which is vital for the state. That’s going to have all of these funding projects in there and building projects in there.

Here’s what Senate Majority Leader Senator Aaron Ford said about the deal last night.

“It was a bipartisan effort on both sides, a bipartisan approach to try to find solutions,” Ford said. “You know, we may disagree on policy sometimes, but we can find a way to agreeably see if we can find middle ground on policy items, like we have, so that’s what we were able to get done.”

KUNR: But the Senate is only half the battle. It still has to get through the Assembly. Is that going to be difficult?

Normally, I would say ‘yes,’ because the lower chamber of any legislature is the more reactive body. Not so here. All session, the senate has been the more reactionary body.

Lawmakers in the assembly have been more studious, more diligent about passing bills and working together, and I think they’ve expressed that they were willing to find some deal that worked for everybody. Now that there’s a deal, they’re willing to go along with it even if it’s not perfect, says Minority Leader Paul Anderson.

“You know, we have to face the realities that we had a capital improvement project budget that we needed to get passed at some level. That required a two-thirds vote,” Anderson explained. “We knew that we needed to get something for those parents that are looking for school choice. We couldn’t come to an agreement on ESAs in both houses, and I think at this point, in this late hour, this was a good opportunity to continue with that school choice.”

KUNR: So what happens now?

You know, there are still a few bills out there that they want to get done. There’s a measure on renewable energy portfolio standards that they want to look at. There’s also a bill on making insulin prices more transparent from pharmacy companies. And there’s also the governor’s veto watch. He’s been more than happy to veto bills this year.