The 2019 Nevada Legislature had a bit of a shake-up last week when Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson resigned from office. To talk about his resignation and other news from the legislature, KUNR’s Political Reporter Paul Boger spoke with Morning Edition Host Bree Zender to talk about the latest from Carson City.
Let’s talk about that resignation. What happened there and how will it affect the rest of the session?
Sure thing, so last Tuesday, it came as kind of a surprise to most, when reports started to bubble up that Senator Atkinson had pleaded guilty to federal charges of misusing campaign money. Essentially, over the years, it became apparent to officials that Atkinson had apparently used hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal use. And that very day, Atkinson gave an emotional farewell on the Senate floor and resigned. He’s likely going to plead guilty to the charges in federal court in the coming days, and we’ll see what comes of it.
How this affects the rest of the session is still a bit of an unknown. The news definitely took the wind out of a few sails last week as lawmakers were really ramping up the number of bill hearings. First off, Atkinson’s resignation left a bit of a hole leadership-wise. That itself has been addressed by the promotion of Democratic Senator Nicole Cannizzaro--she was the assistant majority leader and Atkinson’s top lieutenant before his resignation.
As a bit of a silver lining to all this, if you care to look at that way, Cannizzaro will serve as the first women to hold the majority leader position in the state. Combined with the fact that Nevada is the first state to reach a female-majority in the legislature, it's fairly interesting. That’s also left a vacancy in the Assistant Majority Leader position that will be filled by Senator Julia Ratti of Sparks.
In other legislative news, there’s been some backlash over the last couple weeks in some of the rural areas stemming from the passage of SB143 – the expanded gun background check bill. What’s that all about that?
Yeah, as you might remember, early last month, Democrats in the legislature single-handedly passed a measure known as Senate Bill 143, which rewrote the state’s beleaguered gun background check law passed by voters in 2016 with a workable version. And while Democrats, who had campaigned hard on the issue last year, hailed the passage of that law as a victory, Republicans rejected it outright saying the measure is flawed and overreaching.
Now, the measure isn’t set to go into effect until January 1, 2020. However, over the past couple of weeks, some of the sheriffs in the state’s rural counties have voiced concern over the bill saying they will not enforce the measure – instead, creating 2nd Amendment Sanctuary Zones.
So far, the sheriffs of Eureka and Nye counties are the only ones to officially say they are refusing to enforce the measure. But resolutions to create the sanctuary “zones” are also before the Douglas, Lander, Elko and Lyon County Commissioners – so it’s likely more of rural Nevada will join in before it’s all said and done.
As for supporters of the measure, Governor Sisolak issued a statement last week saying he hopes to work with the sheriffs and the attorney general over the coming months to hopefully come to a consensus on how to enforce the law. But gun rights advocates say they are already looking to challenge the measure in court. So we’ll see what happens.
So, let’s talk legislation. Lawmakers are really digging into some big bills, right?
Absolutely, despite the upheaval, last week was still a fairly busy week for hearings in the legislature. First, lawmakers heard a bill aimed at improving school safety. SB89 is an omnibus that would look to put some of the recommendations from last year’s school safety task force into law. The bill would increase funding for school policing efforts, bolster support services like the anonymous reporting service for students, parents and staff known as Safevoice.
Lawmakers are also looking at a major criminal reform overhaul that would potentially have wide-ranging impacts. AB236 is about 136 pages long and proponents of the measure say it could save the state more than half-a-billion dollars in prison-related costs over the next decade by reducing penalties for certain crimes to offering offenders more chances to enroll treatment programs instead of prison.
In that same vein, lawmakers heard arguments for and against a bill that would ban the use of private prisons in Nevada. This particular measure is a do-over from the previous session after Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed it in 2017. SB183 would force the state to end its contracts with private prisons within three years of its passage.
There were also measures to expand early-voting and same-day voter registration, codify portions of the Affordable Care Act into state law and ban marriages before the age of 18. So it was a busy week.
So, what can we expect to see lawmakers take up this week?
As for what’s on the docket, there’s a bill that would make Neon the state’s official element. That’s a bit of a favorite for some in the press corps in Carson. But just today, in fact, there are hearings on measures aimed at adjusting the state’s cannabis advertising laws, how the state investigates bullying and election audits. Later this week, there will be a slew of bills aimed at addressing the state’s Medicaid system, including a measure that would increase Medicaid reimbursements for autism treatments.