The 32nd Special Session of the Nevada Legislature is over. Lawmakers adjourned sine die early Thursday morning after spending a week passing several resolutions and pieces of legislation meant to address a litany of policy issues. Noah Glick spoke with KUNR’s Paul Boger and Lucia Starbuck, who were in Carson City and covered the session in its entirety.
Noah Glick: Paul, as I mentioned a moment ago, lawmakers were working late into the evening. What were they working on?
Paul Boger: That’s SB4 you’re talking about. At its most basic, the bill grants most businesses that follow local health guidelines during the pandemic immunity from [COVID-19-related] death and injury suits. If they fail to meet those standards, they open themselves up not just to liability, but they could also lose their license under this law.
The measure also offers some workplace protections, including paid sick leave for employees experiencing [COVID-19-like] symptoms or if they were exposed to the virus. It’s important to note this bill was written almost exclusively with the state’s tourism industry in mind. The measure greatly favors gaming, in particular, both resorts and hospitality workers. It also has some controversial provisions.
Glick: Why is it so controversial?
Boger: There are a few reasons. Most notably, the measure doesn’t include specific protections for schools and hospitals. Now, over the course of debate, lawmakers asked officials from the governor’s office, who put this bill together, several times why those particular groups were left out. And honestly, there weren’t too many specific reasons. But it’s pretty safe to say it was political.
Teachers groups wanted schools left out because they felt the worker protections in the bill weren't broad enough. They were geared too specifically to hospitality. And legislative leadership says hospitals were left out because they already have protection under the governor’s April 1 emergency directive. So, we’ll see what this means for the state in the coming months, but it is possible this could change what school districts do in the next few weeks.
Glick: Lucia, early in the session, the Senate introduced a set of bills meant to help Nevadans struggling due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. What were they?
Lucia Starbuck: According to the Guinn Center, a non-partisan think tank, about 327,000 low-income Nevadans are at-risk of losing their home when Gov. Steve Sisolak’s eviction moratorium lifts on September 1. In an effort to prevent some of those evictions, lawmakers passed SB1. It allows tenants to remain in place for 30 days while they work out some kind of mediation with their landlord. So, that’s now up to the courts to determine how that will work in practice. That bill received bipartisan support.
Lawmakers also took up a bill to fix the state’s unemployment system, which has been plagued with issues since the start of the pandemic. Under the bill, lawmakers voted to extend benefits to residents who make up to one and a half times more than they receive through unemployment. It also allows people who refuse to return to work because of COVID-19-related health concerns to still receive benefits. It also contains some provisions meant to speed up the submission and processing of claims. The bill also authorizes the Department of Education, Training and Rehabilitation to react more quickly to federal policy changes, in case more federal money for unemployment gets approved.
Glick: Lawmakers also passed two police reform bills this week. They, of course, come during this larger national debate over the role of policing, especially as it relates to communities of color. What action did they take?
Starbuck: Let’s start with AB3. That bill is a little more straightforward. It essentially bans excessive use of force. That includes the use of a chokehold or any move that restricts a person’s ability to breathe. The measure also requires an officer to intervene and report if they see another officer using excessive force. That passed with broad bipartisan support.
The other bill, SB2, was not as popular. The Senate introduced a bill rolling back a 2019 law that added some protections for law enforcement under investigation for non-criminal offenses. We covered it more in-depth on KUNR earlier this week, but that measure was also fairly controversial. Progressives and advocates say all the protections should be repealed completely, but police unions and some Republicans say the bill will also hurt the good officers.
Glick: Finally, lawmakers passed several resolutions this week. What are lawmakers hoping to accomplish there?
Boger: So a vast majority of the resolutions were technical in nature, but four were substantively important. Three of them initiated a process to amend the state constitution in order to increase mining taxes. That’s a multi-year process, so we’ll definitely be reporting more on that in the future.
The other resolution names racism as a public health crisis. It’s something we’ve seen a few other states do, as well as a number of cities and counties. While it’s largely symbolic, it is the Legislature speaking with one voice saying the effects of systemic racism and discrimination disproportionately affect communities of color. That’s something borne out in countless studies, and we’re only seeing those effects exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. So this resolution will possibly lead to more action in the future, but that’s going to have to wait until the regular session in February.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the 32nd Special Session of the Nevada Legislature officially adjourned early Thursday morning.