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Election Reform, Mining Taxes Move Forward In Nevada; Criminal, Social Justice Still On Docket

The exterior of the Nevada State Legislature building, surrounded by leafy green and orange trees.
David Calvert
The Nevada Independent
The Nevada State Legislature on the third day of the 32nd Special Session on Sunday, August 2, in Carson City, Nev.

Lawmakers have spent the three days in Carson City debating a host of issues as part of the 32nd Special Session of the Nevada Legislature. KUNR News Director Michelle Billman spoke with Senior Reporter Paul Boger to help break it all down.

Michelle Billman: Paul, lawmakers were busy over the weekend, sending several bills to Governor Steve Sisolak. What were some of those bills? 

Paul Boger: So in the first three days of the session, lawmakers have passed three bills. The first two of those measures, which have already been signed by the governor, are fairly technical in nature. One literally clarifies language and fixes typos in state law. The other gives lawmakers the ability to continue meeting virtually for interim committee meetings. 

However, one fairly significant piece of legislation is AB4. It’s an election reform measure that’s essentially going make the upcoming general election another mail-in election like the primary. It also requires additional in-person polling places that are open on election day as well. That bill is now before the governor, who will likely sign it into law in the coming days.   

Billman: The election bill you mentioned was among the issues Governor Sisolak brought up in the proclamation calling for the special session, but what about some of the other issues, like social and criminal justice reform? Where are those bills in the process?

Boger: You’re talking about AB3 and SB2. Both pieces of legislation deal specifically with policing. The broader one is AB3. That does a few things. First, it makes it clear that anyone has the freedom to record any action a law enforcement officer takes in public. It also bans chokeholds, which have been linked to the deaths of several people while in police custody.  There are a few more provisions as well, but I should note that AB3 also requires lawmakers to step in and report whenever they see another officer using excessive force. The bill has seen fairly broad, bipartisan support. 

SB2, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. That measure looks to roll back a 2019 law that added some protections to law enforcement under investigation. That measure was lampooned really by both sides of the aisle. So we’ll probably see some changes to that measure before the end of the session. 

Billman: The Democratic majority also approved three different resolutions aimed at amending the Nevada Constitution in order to increase taxes on mining companies. Paul, Democrats tried to do this during the previous special session, but Republicans killed those efforts. Why are they going this route this time around?

Boger: There are a couple of reasons for it. First, many in this state would argue that the mining industry doesn’t contribute enough in tax revenue. We heard that a lot in public comment during the previous special session which dealt with the state’s budget crisis. That point is, of course, debatable. Either way, the legislature doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally change the mining tax rate. That’s set by the state constitution.

So in order to raise that tax, they have to amend the constitution. Normally, to do that, lawmakers must pass a resolution, wait for the next legislative session to pass it again, and then send it to the ballot for voters to make the final decision. That process typically takes the better part of five years. So the three different resolutions are three different tax proposals, and by approving them during this special session, Democrats hope to have the amendment on the ballot by 2022 — cutting the process down by nearly two years.

Billman: Wrapping up, what do lawmakers have left on their agenda for the remainder of this special session?

Boger: A few things actually. While hearings have been held on the criminal justice measures, it’s likely there may be some changes on the bills ahead of the final vote. So that may take another day or two. 

Lawmakers also got their first look at a bill that looks to improve the situation with the state’s troubled unemployment insurance system. As you know, the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation has been plagued with issues since the start of the pandemic. There [have] been complaints of claims not getting filled, late payments, busy phone lines, and fraud. I don’t want to dive too heavily into all of that as we’re running out of time, but I will say the general consensus between lawmakers and the public comment is that this bill doesn’t do enough to address those problems. 

Of course, there’s this looming COVID-19 liability issue that’s hanging over the session. What are the official worker protections through the pandemic? Can an employer be sued if their employee gets sick? Those are incredibly important questions, right now.  There is a version of the bill floating around that seems to offer liability for employers that work to meet health standards. Whether that’s the version that comes up remains to be seen. 

Visit our live blog for updates from the 32nd Special Session of the Nevada Legislature.

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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