The 31st Special Session Of The Nevada Legislature: July 17-20

Jul 20, 2020

3:19 p.m. | July 20, 2020

Lawmakers Approve Hundreds Of Millions In Cuts To Address Massive Budget Hole
By Paul Boger

After 12 days of budget presentations, partisan debate, and emotional pleas from residents, lawmakers in Nevada finally ended the 31st Special Session late Sunday evening.

As part of their final act, lawmakers approved a massive budget bill known as AB3. The omnibus bill formally reduces the state budget of nearly every state agency.

Speaking ahead of the final vote, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro of Las Vegas told reporters cutting the budget was no easy task and required tough decisions for everyone.

“I am hopeful that we will have bipartisan support to say that we care about the things that we have made decisions to add back and to take responsibility for our job as legislators, which is to balance this budget and to look at all the options in order to do so, which is what we have spent this time doing,” Cannizzaro said.

AB3 passed with bipartisan support, but that was only after a late-night showdown in the Assembly earlier in the weekend.

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7:24 p.m. | July 19, 2020

Special Session Wraps After 12 Days, Cuts Millions From Health And Education
By Lucia Starbuck

Nevada lawmakers have voted to officially slash the state budget by hundreds of millions to fill the $1.15 billion budget deficit, and a bulk of the cuts were aimed at K-12 education and health services.

Among the largest cuts are reductions to the K-12 categorical funding including nearly $70 million promised for the New Nevada Funding Formula.

However, lawmakers did allocate $50 million to students whose learning has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure also redirects more than $138 million that lawmakers swept back into the general fund from other accounts. More than $80 went to offset deeper cuts to Health and Human Services and Medicaid.

Also shouldering a heavy burden is the Nevada System of Higher Education. The state’s colleges and universities can expect to see about $135 million in cuts.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story reported incorrectly stated the amount of money swept into the general fund for health care funding. That number was based on a previous version of the bill.

4:35 p.m. | July 19, 2020

Sisolak Delays Second Special Session Citing Health Concerns
By Paul Boger

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said he does not plan to immediately call a second special session to address social and criminal justice reform among other issues.

Sisolak made the announcement in a statement released Sunday afternoon citing concerns over safety in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Sisolak previously said he planned to call a special session to address several issues that he felt “cannot and should not wait until the regularly scheduled 2021 legislative session.” Those issues include social and criminal justice reform as well as shoring up access to the state’s unemployment system and social safety nets.

Sisolak said he will issue the proclamation once he feels lawmakers have done enough leg work to ensure the second session will run in a “thorough, organized and efficient” manner.

Lawmakers have been in Carson City for the better part of the last two weeks in order to address the state’s $1.2 billion budget shortfall. That session was closed to the public as part of an effort to limit the spread of the disease. However, one person did test positive for COVID-19 during the first week.

6:44 a.m. | July 19, 2020

Senate Revisits Bill To Collect Revenue From Mining Companies
By Lucia Starbuck

Assembly Bill 4 would have generated $100 million dollars for K-12 education, but failed by one vote. Republican Sen. Keith Pickard said he would vote in favor of the bill, but went back on his word when it was time to vote. Democratic staffers placed flip-flops leading to Pickard’s office door, stating that real leaders don’t flip-flop in Carson City, Nev., on July 18, 2020.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / This Is Reno

Republicans in the Nevada Legislature have again stonewalled an attempt by Democrats to effectively increase taxes on mining companies operating in the state.

Democrats in the Senate took another swing at raising mining taxes Saturday evening after Republican Sen. Keith Pickard of Henderson told his fellow lawmakers he’d be willing to vote for the measure only if the money was earmarked for K-12 education.

However, Pickard reversed course before the vote, saying he regretted his remarks because he felt the measure had not been properly vetted and that the mining industry had not had enough input.

"At the end of the day, we have to do the right thing for the right reasons, and that includes the mining industry, that includes businesses, that includes education, that includes our children," Pickard said.

Ultimately, the measure failed along party lines, with Democrats only needing one Republican to approve the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro of Las Vegas said Pickard’s decision to vote against the measure was disappointing, but not altogether surprising.

"What is perhaps more intolerable, is that the history in this body of proclaiming a vote for funding education; if there were only a way to do it, if there were only some way that we could find to properly talk about education funding, we could just do a little bit that would be fine. If it made sense, that would be fine. Yet, we never seem to find a way to do so,” Cannizzaro said.

According to analysis, the measure would’ve brought in roughly $100 million dollars for K-12 education, though some Senate Republicans argued that it is just a drop in the bucket, and not enough to address the needs of the state.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

This story was produced in partnership with This Is Reno.

Black Lives Matter supporters protest outside the Legislature on the eleventh day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City on Saturday, July 18, 2020.
Credit David Calvert / The Nevada Independent

4:39 p.m. | July 18, 2020

Lawmakers Continue To Talk Behind Closed Doors Searching For Additional Revenue
By Lucia Starbuck

Lawmakers are scrambling to find additional revenue before voting on a measure that would cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget, including cuts to education and Medicaid services.

Democrats in the Senate announced early Saturday morning, they reached a deal reviving a measure capping the amount of money mining companies can deduct from state taxes, according to The Nevada Independent.

The bill, AB4, would have generated an additional $54 million for the state’s general fund, but died in the wee hours of the morning Friday, after failing to garner one Republican vote in the Senate.

Republican Sen. Keith Pickard said he would vote for the tax increase only if the money was earmarked for K-12 education.

However, Pickard appears to have since walked back his commitment to Democrats, telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he would not be voting for the bill.

Instead, Pickard has now thrown his support behind a GOP proposal for a wholesale tax on renewable energy sold from Nevada to other states.

Nevada lawmakers took Friday off, and were set to gavel in at noon Saturday, but have yet to make an appearance. Similar to Thursday, a lot of conversations are happening behind closed doors.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

Signs placed in the grass by Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian/conservative political advocacy group funded by brothers, David and Charles Koch in front of the Legislature on the ninth day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City on Thursday, July 16, 2020.
Credit David Calvert / The Nevada Independent

2:20 p.m. | July 17, 2020

Lawmakers Look To Mines For More Tax Revenue
By Lucia Starbuck

Republicans in the Nevada Legislature have beaten back a late-night attempt by Democrats to cap the amount of money mining companies can deduct from their state tax bill.

Introduced late in the evening, lawmakers spent much of the 9th day of the 31st Special Session debating Assembly Bill 4 -- a measure that looked to reign in more money from mining companies.

Under current law, mining companies can apply significant deductions from the amount of taxes they must pay each year. Under AB4, those deductions would have been capped at 60 percent of their current levels, bringing an additional $54 million into the state’s general fund for fiscal year 2021.

For Democrats, the measure would have helped limit the impact the budget cuts will have on working families. 

“We have the opportunity today to vote on new revenue to help fill the massive holes in our budget,” said Assemblywoman Sara Peters of Reno. “Holes that don’t just represent dollars and cents, but families, Nevadan families, who are struggling to pay their bills or keep their small businesses open.” 

AB4 was widely praised by public education and healthcare advocates during a public hearing on the bill -- who spent much of the week pushing lawmakers to take a stronger stance on mine operators. 

Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly strongly criticized the bill arguing that the mines operate on tight budgets and that increasing the tax burden would ultimately affect the blue-collar workers in rural communities. 

And while the measure passed the Democratic Supermajority in the Assembly, the measure failed to make it past the eight Republican members of the Senate. 

Republican Senator Joe Hardy of Boulder City said the process felt a lot like a stick-up of the mining industry.

“People can understand that we have differences of opinion. They really do not like it when we use procedures to limit access to the process of having input. When we do it in the dark, behind closed doors without time to be involved and make it problematic to have any influence, they don’t like that. In the West, wearing a mask at night [and] demanding money, it doesn’t look right.”

Earlier this week, lawmakers passed a measure requiring mines to prepay their tax bill. That does not raise revenue, nor does it address the five percent cap on mining proceeds. To change that would require a constitutional amendment.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

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