Whether it's banning the statute of limitations on sexual assault cases or eliminating the use of cash bail in the criminal justice system, lawmakers in Nevada are in the process of considering hundreds of bills this legislative session. KUNR's Paul Boger sat down with Fred Lokken, a long-time political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College to breakdown the session thus far.
“There’s a general consensus that it’s off to a good start,” Lokken said of the session. “This is a major transition with party change across all the constitutional offices, almost. Then the reality of term limits is completely kicking the butt of the State of Nevada now, so we have a lot of greenness to any session. We don’t have the depth of leadership, the experience, the sense of how it works like we used to. All of that said, they have seemed to keep it together.”
Lokken's assessment comes as lawmakers continue to push through the session despite the recent resignations of two influential Democrats: Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson of North Las Vegas, who quit after admitting to violating federal campaign finance laws, and Assembly Health and Human Services Committee Chair Mike Sprinkle of Sparks, who resigned amidst sexual harassment allegations.
“They’ve handled the Atkinson affair, and I think they’re handling the Sprinkle affair as well as any previous administration or legislative session has dealt with scandal, because we’ve had that before, and [they have], more or less, gotten past it," he said. "They haven’t gotten preoccupied with it."
As for the actual work of governing, Lokken says lawmakers seem to be working together so far; however, it's still unclear how far to the left the Democratic majority is willing to go.
"I think the jury is still out on whether there’s going to be a little bit more progressivism than Nevada may be ready for,” Lokken continued. “Whether we’re going to see any tensions publically develop between the governor and the legislature? Right now, there seems to be an unexpected level of cooperation and harmony operating.”
That cooperation also seems to extend to the legislation itself. Since the first day of the session, leaders from both parties expressed a commitment to work in a bipartisan fashion. So far, those pledges have held true. However, during the session’s first major policy debate, expanding gun background checks to private sales and transfers, Democrats passed SB143 in less than a week with no input from their Republican counterparts, despite repeated attempts to amend the bill.
Lokken says the realpolitik of the session requires that leaders rely less on bipartisanship when it comes to passing priority legislation, like the expanded background check bill.
“We are seeing bipartisanship. There was a press conference this week to launch an effort to remove the statute of limitations on sexual violence. In essence, I think there are always topics that speak not to party but to common sense on the needs of Nevada’s society. But most of their agenda, whether it’s on the Republican side or Democratic side, is a very political agenda. By that nature, there is very little ground.”