There are only four days left in Nevada's 81st legislative session, and lawmakers are scrambling to get bills out of the door and onto the governor's desk. That includes appropriating billions in state dollars to fund the government over the next two years. To talk about that, KUNR Morning Edition host Noah Glick spoke with political editor Paul Boger.
Noah Glick: Paul, here we are in the last week of the regular session. What are lawmakers up to?
Paul Boger: Noah, they have got a lot going on. So, let's talk about some of the things they did this week. Mail-in voting, so we saw that come back. That is making those changes that lawmakers made in the special session last summer permanent. That includes making mail-in voting the standard; however, they'll still be places to vote in-person. There will still be early voting. It includes some of the requests by Republican lawmakers to start cleaning up voter rolls; things that they see are voter security issues that they would like to see addressed. Some of those made it into the bill. That actually got a vote on the floor of the Assembly this week and now is in the Senate. So we should see that moving through that process over the next couple of days. Of course, that's in addition to the first-in-the-nation effort to make Nevada no longer a caucus state, but moving to a primary and trying to take that first-in-the-nation primary spot that Democrats really covet because they see Nevada as this more [representative] state versus Iowa or New Hampshire, which are incredibly, incredibly white.
Then you have cannabis consumption lounges. This is really interesting. ... In the state of Nevada, when voters passed the pot initiative in 2016, essentially they said, “You could only smoke pot on your property.” Well, if you don't live here, and you come from out of state, you don't own property in Nevada. You're technically breaking the law if you use it anywhere else. So they're trying to create consumption lounges, essentially bars. The way it works at this point is that one dispensary in a company can have a lounge attached. Then you can have an independent licensee, more like a bar that sells single-use marijuana consumption products.
Part of the reason the state is taking action on this now is that the moratorium on counties and cities being able to pass rules and laws about this is coming to an end. So lawmakers want to be able to keep those [regulations] within the state. And that's actually what pushed Assemblyman Tom Roberts, a Republican from Southern Nevada, to vote for the bill.
Tom Roberts: So, currently, there's a moratorium on consumption lounges in the state. If this had failed, then each individual municipality would have had to come up with some kind of regulations. [These were] pretty decent regulations that we put together in this bill. And so I felt it was important that the state have the regulations, rather than each municipality do it.
Boger: There's also so much else. There's “Right to Return,” which is making sure that casino workers can get their pre-pandemic jobs back. There's the casino gun ban that's now going to the Assembly and the public option bill, creating a public option health insurance plan, that is being sent to the Assembly now. And they've got only a couple of days to try to get that through.
Glick: Yeah, we're so short on time here. What about the next couple of days? I mean, what do lawmakers have to get done?
Boger: Lawmakers only have to get through the budget, right? They only have to pass a budget. They do that through five bills, and they've already passed the biggest one, which is the education budget. That's going to put about $2.6 billion to public schools over the next couple of years. And that's going to take the average total pupil support, public support for that to about $10,250 over the next two years. That's actually a little bit of a decrease from the current biennium, but of course, lawmakers are going to take a whole bunch of federal money that they're going to get in COVID relief and put some of that towards education. So that's probably going to offset that a little bit. There's an appropriations bill, which actually funds the state government, that's at $7 billion. A number of capital improvement projects, including upgrading the prison in Carson City, [and] UNLV’s medical school is a big issue for Southern Nevadans.
Then you have the state worker pay bill. That's a big one. They're going to give state workers a 1% cost of living adjustment. And here's where I should probably note that you and I are NSHE employees and technically state workers.
Glick: Full disclosure.
Boger: And full disclosure, NSHE she owns the license to our station. There you go, full disclosure.
And then there's the authorization bill which [allows] lawmakers to authorize those funds that usually come from federal sources or other sources outside the general fund, but that's what they have to get done.
Glick: And this all has to be done by midnight on Monday night into Tuesday, right?
Boger: Yeah. All of this has to get done by Monday night.
Glick: And then real quickly, just, I have only got a little bit of time left with you. What about the governor? This is where he typically comes into play, signing and vetoing bills. Has he given any indication that he may veto any of these bills that we've discussed?
Boger: You know, the governor is usually pretty tight-lipped about these things. [That] was true under Sandoval [and] it's true under any governor during a legislative session. So they're pretty tight-lipped, [but the] governor seems to be supportive of most of these bills. I do wonder what he'll do with [the] cannabis consumption lounges, public option [and] casino gun ban.
As a note of disclosure, the Nevada System of Higher Education owns the license to this station.