Week 7 Legislative Recap: Deadlines, Ratification and Hearings

Mar 24, 2017

The Nevada Assembly preparing to vote on ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.
Credit Paul Boger

It's been a busy "week 7" at the Nevada legislature with the introduction of roughly 2-hundred new bills. Our News Director Michelle Billman spoke to our political reporter Paul Boger to find out the latest.

EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT

Nevada may have made history this week when it became the first state in 35 years to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA, also known to the legislature as Senate Joint Resolution Two, enshrines in the U.S. Constitution equal rights and protections for women.  Democrats in both chambers had been working through the month of March (which also happens to be Women’s History Month) to pass the legislation, which it did Wednesday.

Throughout the legislative process, the GOP stiffly opposed the passage of the resolution. Only two Republicans, Senator Heidi Gansert and Assemblywoman Jill Tolles both of Reno, crossed the aisle and approved the bill. Some of the detractors claimed the amendment would force women into compulsory military service if there were another draft. Others argued the amendment would lead to taxpayer-funded abortions.

The debate over the ERA dates back to the 1970’s, when Congress adopted the amendment. However, when it was sent to the states for ratification, the proposed amendment failed to garner the support it needed before a 1982 deadline. In other words, the legislature’s actions may be wholly symbolic, doing little to breathe new life into the ERA debate among states.

FIRST MAJOR DEADLINE

This week also marked the first major deadline of the 2017 legislative session. Lawmakers worked late into the night Monday to introduce the remaining personal bills (legislation bearing their names.) In all, 195 pieces of legislation were dropped throughout the day. That’s nearly one-quarter of the total bills currently before lawmakers.

Some of the more interesting pieces of legislation called for reforms to the state’s sex education policies, new regulations for Nevada’s burgeoning recreation marijuana industry and codifying the federal Affordable Care Act into state law.

At first glance, Republican have been critical of many of the bills presented thus far. Speaking the day after the Monday marathon, Senator Ben Kieckhefer of Reno said the tone of the bills represents a liberal ideology. 

“I think we’ve seen a lot of bills that are part of that Bernie Sanders, left, progressive agenda that’s being promoted nationally and brought here to Nevada to try and impose this sort of cookie-cutter progressivism into our state, and we’re seeing that in terms of legislation that’s coming out.”

But for Democrats the legislation dealt with a broad number of bipartisan issues.

“There was a real broad spectrum of bills introduced representing the different and varied political thought that is here at the Nevada legislature,” said Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno). “We saw bills that did everything from make proclamations saying everything that we do in Washington is wrong to everything we do in Washington is right.”

COMMITTEE HEARINGS

Despite the action taken on the ERA, committee hearings continue to dominate the legislative agenda. Over the past five days lawmakers have listened to presentations on dozens of different pieces of legislation.

It would take a veritable army of reporters to provide complete analysis on every bill, but here is a breakdown of some of the notable legislation discussed over the past week.

Elections Reform

Lawmakers kicked off the week with a spirited debate on presidential election reform. For nearly two-and-a-half hours lawmakers in the Assembly Committee on Legislative Affairs and Elections heard testimony on AB274 – a bill that would place Nevada into a compact with 11 other states calling for the U.S. to begin electing the President based on the popular vote.

The measure seems to have gained traction in the months after the contentious presidential election between Democrat Hillary Clinton and now Commander-in-Chief, Republican Donald Trump. Clinton, who won Nevada, lost the election based on the Electoral College despite receiving three million more votes than her opponent.

But not everyone is convinced this is the right move for Nevada. There seem to be a number of constitutional questions surrounding the legality of the compact. The measure could also do harm to the state’s growing status as a battleground state.

Proponents of the Electoral College argue the measure protects the interests of states with smaller populations. In other words, Nevada’s roughly 2.8 million voters would seem paltry compared to states like California or Arizona.

Other changes to the state’s election laws include a proposal by Republicans that would require all voting precincts in the state to have a separate line for voters with disabilities or to allow them to skip the line.

Speaking to lawmakers during the hearing for SB117, Barry Gold with the American Association of Retired Persons said the measure would benefit Nevada’s older voters.

“Voting is a fundamental right of all citizens and it’s especially important to the older citizens,” said Gold. “It is something they’ve grown up with, and they really appreciate the ability to cast their ballot. AARP is very pleased this measure is before the legislature.”

Expanding Early Education

AB186, drafted by Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, seeks to expand the state’s modest prekindergarten program by requiring every school district in the state to begin offering the service. Currently, there are about 5,500 of the state’s 32,000 four-year-olds enrolled in publicly funded pre-k. The measure also looks to require all children in the state to begin school by the age of five.

In all, the expansion of both kindergarten and pre-k programs would cost roughly $375 million over the next few years. With such a hefty price tag, it seems unlikely the measure will make it through both chambers intact.

Substance Abuse Treatment

Senator Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) has brought forth a controversial proposal on how to tackle Nevada’s drug problem. Presented as a public health bill, SB181 calls for the expansion of substance abuse treatment programs. That’s fairly innocuous, however, the measure also proposes creating a pilot program that would give heroin to addicts in a supervised environment in an effort to wean them off the drug.

The measure is based on a similar program in Vancouver. Officials there say it’s been a success, but the initiative has never gained traction in the states.

And yet, that may not be the most contested aspect of the bill. To pay for the programs, Segerblom has proposed a large tax increase on a number of the state’s most profitable vices including liquor, cigarettes and gaming. Lobbyists from those industries have railed against the idea and it seems unlikely the measure will make it out of committee.

LOOKING AHEAD TO NEXT WEEK

Monday marks another deadline. It will be the last day for committees as a whole to introduce legislation. It is very unlikely that legislators will bring forward quite as many bills as this week; there may be as many as another 100 before lawmakers.

It’s likely to be another week full of committee hearings; however, some action might be taken on programs and legislation aimed at protecting portions of the Affordable Care Act.

You may also see a slew of hearings relating to the implementation of the state’s recreational marijuana industry.