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This Week: New Laws, Tracking Emissions, COVID-19 Cases Creep Back

Sisolak is sitting at his desk while he signs the bill. Frierson is standing over Sisolak’s left shoulder. The state seal hangs on the wall in the background.
Photo Courtesy of Governor Steve Sisolak’s Office
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signs a piece of legislation while Speaker of the Assembly Jason Frierson watches.

Nevada lawmakers approved more than 500 bills during the recent legislative session, and nearly half of those new laws went into effect this week. KUNR host Michele Ravera spoke with senior reporter Paul Boger during Morning Edition to learn more.

Michele Ravera: So, what are some of the new laws that went into effect?

Paul Boger: Right. First, let’s talk about the “Right to Return.” That’s probably the biggest one, I think, that will have the largest impact on the state. That essentially guarantees certain workers within the state’s casino and hospitality industry to get their jobs back if they were lost during the pandemic.
So, essentially, employers with at least 30 employees are required to offer those workers [who were laid off] their position back if they become available ... beginning July 1. Those workers had to have worked there for six months before the pandemic, before March 2020, and had to have been laid off because of the economic situation, not because they were a bad employee or they were at fault.

Priority will be given to those employees if a job comes open; that’s going to be under state law. Employees will have a day to accept it. This was a very controversial measure in that it was really derided by the business community. They wanted a little bit more of a chance to get what workers they can. Of course, there’s a huge labor shortage right now. But this was supported by the unions, especially the culinary union [downstate]. So that is one of the reasons why we saw this bill come up near the end of the session. It’s very big right now, in that, it’s rather unique. There aren’t a lot of states doing this. We’ll see how this works out for Nevada.

Of course, there were a few policing and law enforcement laws. Police can only use deadly force if there is an “imminent threat.” Under the new law, [it] specifies a peace officer can only use deadly force if they’re trying to prevent somebody from escaping and they’re trying to prevent bodily harm to themselves or others. Those are the only reasons somebody can use deadly force. Of course, that was kind of the understanding, or at least in theory, under the law, but now this is actually codified in the state.

Then there’s removing, per se, amounts of THC in the blood as a way to prosecute somebody for a marijuana DUI. So essentially there, we’re talking about, if somebody was suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana, formerly they could take your blood, test it, [and if there’s THC, they can] prosecute you for a DUI. Unfortunately, it’s not how THC works in the bloodstream. It stays in the bloodstream whether you’re high or not. So we’ve removed in the state that sort of provision in state law. However, if you are obviously high and driving, you will still get a DUI.

Another thing I think is interesting is this ornamental grass ban down south. I think it’s one of the larger climate change-related measures from the session. Essentially, in Southern Nevada, if it is an ornamental grass, if it doesn’t serve a purpose, they’re going to have to get rid of it at some point because that is a major water usage issue down there. Lake Mead is at historic lows. They need to conserve water. This is one way to do it.

Ravera: I’m glad that you mentioned climate change because this week, Governor Steve Sisolak, along with Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve and Washoe County Commissioner Bob Lucey, announced the development of an effort to track emissions in real-time. What can you tell us about that?

Boger: So that came out [Thursday]. It’s actually really unique in that if this goes through, Reno would be the first city in the country to track its emissions like this. So it’s part of the state’s commitment to sticking with the Paris Climate Accord. You’ll remember in 2019. Or as [former President Donald Trump pulled the country] out of the Paris Climate Accord in 2017. Nevada recommitted itself to it, to at least those provisions of the accord, [aimed at] limiting global warming to two degrees below Celsius, comparative preindustrial levels, I think I should mention.

What they’re gonna do is they’re gonna work with a company called Ledger8760. They’re going to track emissions, CO2 emissions, from public property and facilities in Reno and Washoe County, as well as some from certain state facilities, like the Capitol down in Carson City, and see how much CO2 these buildings are emitting and trying to see how we can limit those emissions.

It’s really interesting. And it’s also being seen as a way to create jobs here in Northern Nevada. Really interested to see some data once we get it.

Ravera: That’s great. And switching gears a bit, I do also want to touch on the pandemic. While most Nevadans seem ready to move forward and put the social distancing and mitigation efforts behind them, it seems coronavirus cases are ticking up again here in Nevada. What is the state doing to address the recent increase in cases?

Boger: Yeah, coronavirus, whether we like it or not, is still here. The pandemic is still alive and well. Cases have more than doubled in the last two weeks in Nevada. As a matter of fact, we have the fastest-growing rate of new cases in the country. And a lot of that is being driven by the surge in [Delta variant cases of the virus]. We’ve already seen our first death related to the Delta variant here in Washoe County [Thursday]. Down south, we’ve had many more cases of that very fast-spreading strain of the virus moving through Clark County. A lot of that is related to not a lot of people wearing masks or people not being vaccinated. So, Governor Steve Sisolak asked for federal assistance to get one of these surge teams from the federal government to come help [and] try to do vaccination outreach efforts, do more vaccination mobile clinics, cause that’s really the key here. That’s what these state officials keep saying, is that if people get vaccinated, the spread is much less likely to occur.

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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