The 81st Session of the Nevada Legislature took place in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had claimed the lives of over 5,000 Nevadans, and put many more out of work, left without healthcare, or at risk of housing insecurity.
With the state of Nevada’s budget initially uncertain, expectations for major legislation among progressives was somewhat tempered. However, thanks to a better-than-expected economic outlook, and several legislators willing to hold fast on tough fights led by community organizing, the 81st session delivered many laudable legislative victories. These included the strengthening of voting rights and expansion of automatic voter registration, banning “ghost guns”, establishing a public health insurance option, charting a new course for clean energy job growth and climate action, and racial and LGBTQIA+ equity. In addition, positive steps were taken to address the external effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including upgrades to the unemployment system, eviction reform, and improvements to public health access. And finally, the legislature, thanks to the leadership Assembly Speaker, Jason Frierson, passed a bill to finally tax mining to help fund our state’s poorly funded schools. While not as bold as what advocates had called for, going back decades, AB495 was a worthy step towards mining finally paying what they owe in revenue.
That said, the 81st Session was not without some extreme disappointments. The failure of the Senate to even give the bill to abolish the death penalty a hearing stands out among them. Nevada lawmakers also let big developers talk them down from bolder policy to address affordable housing, and walked away from legislation to ensure responsible energy planning due to pressure from the methane gas industry. Education funding, while bolstered through ingenious maneuvering of funds by Assembly Ways and Means Chair, Maggie Carlton, and the effort to tax the mines, also fell short of addressing the equity and educator organizing rights concerns inherent in the new education funding formula.
While the progressive wins outnumbered the losses, the Session reminded us that we must remain vigilant and dedicated to fighting for the issues that serve our community. Even in the case of a Democratic trifecta, wealthy corporations and law enforcement agencies often hold a disproportionate influence in the halls of the legislature, and it’s the role of all Nevadans to hold their elected officials accountable. Still, for a session expected to be light on significant achievements, 2021 contained more pleasant surprises than disappointing ones. We look forward to working during the interim on issues of healthcare, renewable energy, the distribution of American Rescue Plan funds, and the redistricting process. We’re eager to return to Carson City in 2023 to continue advocating for further initiatives for gun violence prevention, and addressing criminal justice reform and housing issues in a real way.
Legislation included in this report card was chosen based on our policy priorities and the amount of time and resources invested into advocating for each bill by Battle Born Progress and our members. We graded legislators based on their votes for, or against, these priority bills.
SCR11, the resolution to create an interim study by the Legislature on the subject of Innovation Zones, sadly moved forward to be enrolled with the Secretary of State. We believe it is inappropriate to spend time studying this proposal to give a billionaire CEO of an unproven company their own autonomous government. While only a study, we remain extremely concerned that the proper input will not be sought, nor will that input be heeded. However, because this resolution was passed via voice vote, we decided against including it in the 2021 Report Card, because exact votes for or against SCR11 could not be verified. We encourage lawmakers to ensure the voices of tribes, environmental experts, and local government authorities be consulted thoroughly before any recommendation on Innovation Zones is made.
AJR1**, from the 2020 special session, was a major priority for Battle Born Progress this session, as part of the Dig Deep Nevada coalition, led by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN). However, it was not included in the 2021 Report Card given that it did not receive a hearing in lieu of the mining tax bill, AB495, moving forward in its place. AB495 is included in the 2021 Report Card.
AB380, the bill to mandate responsible energy planning for gas utilities, sponsored by Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen, was a major priority for Battle Born Progress’ clean energy work. Unfortunately, the bill was a casualty of the first Committee Passage deadline, and did not receive a vote. Therefore, it was excluded from the Progress Report. We appreciate the statements from the Governor and Legislative Leadership expressing urgency for plans to be made for an eventual phase-out of natural (methane) gas that protects energy consumers as we transition to a more robust clean energy economy, as per the Nevada Climate Strategy, and look forward to guiding that process and organizing our community to support that transition.
AB395, the bill to abolish the death penalty, sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager, received a full vote by the Assembly, but never received a hearing in the Senate, which led the bill to be lost after the committee passage deadline. The death of this bill occured after weeks of advocacy pushing Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Melanie Scheible, to schedule a hearing for the bill. Both essentially deferred to Governor Steve Sisolak, who publicly expressed concerns with ending the death penalty in all circumstances. Despite phone calls, petitions and even offerings of amendments to soften the bill, Governor Sisolak and the Majority Leader abruptly announced the bill would not move forward, with just under 48 hours left before the deadline. Because AB395 did not receive a vote by both chambers, we have excluded it from our scoring tabulation. However, we note the bill’s history here for purposes of accountability. The advocates who championed abolishing this outdated, racist, and costly practice deserved a chance to be heard and we feel the Senate Leadership and the Governor need to do more to listen to those speaking out.