The Clark County Commission is considering a proposal from its new chairwoman, Marilyn Kirkpatrick, to spend a windfall of marijuana business license fee revenue on Southern Nevada’s homeless problem.
Marijuana-related businesses generated $9.3 million in business license fees in fiscal year 2018 and are on track to reach $11 million in fiscal year 2019.
“I wanted to talk about the board establishing a policy to dedicate some of the marijuana dollars toward homelessness because I think it’s an important social impact that we have to deal with on a regular basis,” Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick, the only woman on the otherwise-male board, was elected unanimously to chair the Commission. Kirkpatrick is the former Speaker of the Nevada Assembly.
“We have, by last count, 199 families that have gone through the entire process and qualify for some form of housing, without there being a way to do it,” said Commissioner Jim Gibson. “And when you think about the education component, children have a much harder time performing in school if there are uncertainties about their living arrangements. I think this is an extremely important piece of the addressing of education issues by this board.”
Gibson says he’s discussed a preliminary plan with Henderson Mayor Debra March and county officials confirm Kirkpatrick has spoken with other mayors in Southern Nevada.
Those 199 families to whom Gibson refers are in shelters, according to the county, but comprise a slight fraction of the 6,500 homeless adults and children estimated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to be living on the streets of Southern Nevada.
Clark County staff are expected to bring back a resolution to the County Commission at a future meeting.
Marijuana business license fees are currently in excess of $2 million a quarter for fiscal year 2019, according to county officials. County Commissioner Tick Segerblom suggested the county limit the allocation to homeless services at $1 million a month, minus the cost of administration of marijuana licenses.
Commissioner Lawrence Weekly indicated support for augmenting the county’s outreach to the homeless.
“As someone who was born of an indigent mother, I can only imagine in 2019, it’s worse,” Weekly said. “Let’s specifically determine how we are going to make an impact.”
“It doesn’t matter if we have nine million or twenty million, it’s not going to address homelessness,” said Commissioner Larry Brown, who called the plan “a great opportunity” but wanted assurances the money would go where needed most.
“Housing is an issue today, as well as wrap-around services,” said Kirkpatrick.
On another marijuana matter, Segerblom said he inherited a request from former Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani to request that Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson expunge convictions for minor marijuana offenses. Segerblom says he and Wolfson agree the legal mechanism does not exist to do so and requires legislation.
“He did offer to work with me and the Legislature to make sure a law is passed this next session,” Segerblom said.
Wolfson did not respond to the Current’s request for comment.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Sisolak would not say whether Sisolak has considered pardoning low-level offenders, as governors in California and Washington have done.
UNLV Immigration Legal Clinic asks county to seek grant
The Commission also took up Commissioner Tick Segerblom’s proposal to match grant funds sought by UNLV’s Immigration Clinic from the Vera Institute for Justice to assist Southern Nevadans threatened with deportation.
Culinary union spokeswoman Bethany Khan spoke in favor of the measure, as did members of Service Employees International Union, which represents Clark County workers.
“We are concerned that immigrant workers are now increasingly targeted for arrest, detention and deportation,” Khan told the Commission. “While Culinary members work in a rigorously regulated industry, we are concerned for our members who have undocumented family members.”
The Vera Institute for Justice, an organization seeking to eliminate injustice and legal disparities, would match up to $100,000 for the first year. The county is being asked to allocate $250,000 a year to the clinic for two years.
“We know historically in that process if you have an attorney you have a ten times better chance of not being deported,” said Segerblom. “When you’re deporting the breadwinner, there’s a huge financial cost to the community.”
One in five children in Clark County schools has an undocumented parent, according to UNLV Immigration Clinic director Michael Kagan.
“Every month here in the Las Vegas immigration court, around 200 deportation cases begin,” Kagan told the Commission. “Three out of four of the people targeted are in detention. Many of them will face a judge and prosecutor alone, from behind bars, trying to negotiate a notoriously arcane area of law.”
“When we offer legal defense we simultaneously train the next generation of lawyers to serve our growing community,” he said.
Kagan says the Clinic’s largest endeavor is defending unaccompanied children arriving from Central America.
According to Kagan, more than one in five residents in Clark County was born in a foreign country.
“Per capita, our state has a larger undocumented population than any other. We should be very proud of the diversity in our community, but we cannot avoid the reality. Many of our neighbors have targets on their backs and they are defenseless,” Kagan said.
“Ours is one of the few phone numbers people in detention are given, where they might ask for free legal aid, but we have to say no because we have pushed our staffing as far as we can,” he told the Commission.
Twelve cities currently participate in the Safe Cities grant program via assistance from the Vera Institute. Five additional cities in the U.S. will receive grant money this year.