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#NVLeg Week 5: A Little More On Innovation Zones, But Just A Little

Two women look at paperwork while standing over a desk.
David Calvert
The Nevada Independent
Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (left) and Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus on the Assembly Floor in Carson City, Nev., on Aug. 5, 2020.

One month down, three to go as lawmakers in Nevada move through the 81st regular session. So far, the start of the session has been slow, but a number of large, highly anticipated pieces of legislation are set to be introduced any day now, including the measure that would create innovation zones, which would let tech companies create their own governments in undeveloped areas. KUNR’s Paul Boger spoke with Morning Edition Host Noah Glick to break down the latest.

NOAH GLICK: So Paul, let's start there with innovation zones. We've got a little more information from Governor Sisolak last week on this proposal. What did we learn from that press conference?

PAUL BOGER: Essentially, we learned that the innovation zones would allow private enterprises, those tech companies, to build their own cities in counties, in those rural counties, those rural areas. The risk for these counties would totally be on the company and they would be required to build their own infrastructure, essentially building these towns out of nothing. It would require an applicant to have an immediate investment [of] about $250 million in infrastructure and to pledge to spend about another billion over a decade. That stuff we already knew though.

I think what we kind of got at the heart of, is the Blockchain's proposal and, more or less, the projections that are leading to this bill. We heard some of the money that is being talked about. Blockchains is looking to include about $9 billion in direct economic output for the development, creating about 80,000 construction jobs. They're also talking about another 25,000 permanent jobs created by this Blockchain city out in the middle of the desert. Problem is, where do these numbers come from? I don't have a good answer for that.

And what we don't have [is] a good answer from the governor [as to] why this is needed. It's just very strange.

GLICK: We haven't seen a bill yet, either. So, do you have a sense of how lawmakers might feel about this proposal?

BOGER: It's hard to know. Lawmakers can be difficult to nail down on a straightforward bill, let alone something this complex, especially when we haven't seen the official language. But the lawmakers I'm talking to, they're also asking that question, why? And that's simply something that the governor has not adequately answered at this time.

GLICK: Well, let's move on from innovation zones for now. So, what did lawmakers take up this week? 

BOGER: Some prison reform. There's a measure that would look to pay prisoners the state's minimum wage, also reducing certain deductions they would have to pay, except for victim restitution. The money would then be saved into an account for inmates to use upon release.

There’s also a bill that would look to expand tenant rights in the state, create a tenant's bill of rights. That's already getting pushback from landlords.

The creation of an e-sports commission. If you know any teenagers or preteens, really any child at this point, you know that they are all about video games and watching Twitch. That is the way of the future. So, creating an e-sports commission is on the legislature's docket.

And this back-on-track bill, using upwards of a billion dollars in federal funds to expand summer school here in this state to help students who have struggled through the pandemic get back on track, get back in the classroom. This is meant to help them. It's going to be very costly. Like I said, a billion dollars in possible federal money. So we'll be watching that closely as we go through the session.

GLICK: And I noticed you didn't mention anything about the state budget. And before any of our listeners tune out, earlier this year, you said the session would revolve around money. So, have we seen any movement on the budget front?

BOGER: You know, it's still very early. Budget bills are usually handled last. That's because lawmakers are waiting on that final economic forum in May to make a determination.

GLICK: The reason I bring this up is that, earlier this week, Governor Sisolak’s Home Means Nevada PAC actually released campaign finance paperwork, showing a half-million-dollar donation from Nevada Gold Mines. As you know, lawmakers are considering proposals that could eventually raise taxes on mining companies in the state. Could that be a reason we haven't seen those resolutions come back yet?

BOGER: The campaign finance documents were for the fourth quarter of last year. So, they were a little late. It shows that PAC, that Home Means Nevada PAC, raised about $830,000, half a million from Nevada Gold Mines. That PAC got that money in the months directly after the special sessions in which those resolutions to increase mining taxes were introduced. It's not uncommon for these companies to give politicians money, but it is a very large amount. I don't know if they're necessarily connected. Again, money bills happen at the end. I think there [are] a lot of other bills waiting to come out and we're going to have a very big week next week, with bill introduction deadline on the 15th. So, lots of bills are going to be introduced. Lawmakers are focusing their attention on that, before they really take up those money bills.

KUNR's Jayden Perez adapted this story for the web.

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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