Progressive groups tell lawmakers not to rest on November’s laurels

Organizer Audrey Peral
Make The Road Organizer Audrey Peral delivers the Progressive State of the State on Thursday, Jan. 31.

Democratic control of state government doesn’t automatically ensure progressive policy, Nevada groups said Thursday, so they intend to lobby harder than ever during the upcoming legislative session.

Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada held a “Progressive State of the State” to highlight their legislative priorities and call on legislators to make good on the progressive platforms many of them ran on in last year’s elections. Delivered in English by PLAN Executive Director Laura Martin and in Spanish by Make The Road Organizer Audrey Peral, the speech covered the gamut of progressive politics, from economic justice through earned sick leave and a higher minimum wage, to criminal justice issues like cash bail, to environmental issues such as renewable energy.

Despite broad support among progressives and Democratic voters for many of those priorities, legislative specifics are thus far few and far between, and the policy goals are all but guaranteed to face opposition from powerful business interests and their army of lobbyists during the session, which begins Monday. To combat that influence, groups including PLAN, Make It Work, Make the Road, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Moms Demand Action and Human Rights Campaign are organizing a variety of lobby days and planning on busing or flying supporters from Southern Nevada to Carson City.

Martin began the speech by praising Nevada for becoming the first state with a female-majority legislature, and for electing its first African American attorney general in Aaron Ford.

“It feels good to win, doesn’t it?” Martin joked, before adding more solemnly, “But we know that we can watch all that work go to waste if we don’t continue to work just as hard to make the 2019 legislative session as meaningful as the 2018 election.”

In one of the most pointed parts of the speech, Martin put the payday lending industry on notice that progressives are coming for them.

“There are more payday lenders in Nevada than McDonalds and Starbucks combined,” she said. “These predatory lenders charge an average of 652 percent for a loan. It is outrageous to think that just because someone cannot obtain a loan or line of credit from a bank, that they should be subjected to such an outrageous scam.”

The speech also gently called out Gov. Steve Sisolak for working with Dollar Loan Center to give loans to federal workers impacted by the recent government shutdown.

“We were surprised,” said Martin, “but the silver living is, those loans were interest free, demonstrating that Dollar Loan Center and other lenders can provide loans at a fraction of the rate they charge now and still function.”

Sisolak, in an interview with The Nevada Independent last month, suggested payday loans may be something of a necessary evil for the unbanked.

Dollar Loan Center contributed thousands of dollars to state politicians on both sides of the aisle during the last election cycle.

PLAN also advocated for criminal justice reforms like making minor traffic infractions civil rather than criminal matters. The economically disadvantaged — especially those from communities of color — are disproportionately affected by such tickets and often find themselves falling into a downward spiral of court fines and fees and eventual jail time.

“Whether or not you are in jail should not depend on your ability to pay for your freedom,” argued Martin.

PLAN also took aim at the “risk assessment” tool that some legislators are pushing as a solution to the existing cash bail system.

Leslie Turner, who heads PLAN’s mass liberation project, elaborated on the criticism after the state of the state, calling it “inherently biased” toward communities of color and low-income households. For example: One criterion on the assessment is about cell phones. If you don’t own one, you are considered a higher risk than a cell phone owner. Policies like this are proposed, she added, because formerly incarcerated people have long not had a seat at the table.

“We are demanding a seat at the table,” said Turner. “Don’t make policies for us without us.”

Turner said that while they have strong legislative partners, they expect vocal and well-funded opposition on bail reform from the bail bonds industry. Like payday loan companies, bail bonds companies have national lobbyists and locally have contributed heavily to state politicians over the years.

Historically, law enforcement organizations have also been against making traffic violations civil rather than criminal, claiming it’s a public safety issue. Turner said budget documents suggest at least one local court relies on income made from the escalating fees of the jailed, so there may be a financial argument made, though her counter is that reform would save everyone more money overall.

Similarly, groups focused on the issue of earned sick time, acknowledging that what seems like “common sense” to them has historically received pushback, especially from small businesses with fewer employees.

Peral, the Make the Road organizer, said they have a dedicated advocate working with small business owners to change the narrative on earned sick leave. They are making the case that sick leave increases employee loyalty and leads to more productivity, meaning better business.

Helping sick employees and small businesses “is not a conflict,” she adds.

To advocate for these (and a slew of other) progressive reforms, progressive organizations in Nevada are beginning to schedule group trips to Carson City.

Earned sick day advocates and a pro-choice group are hoping to send at least one bus per month to the capital so they can offer consistent voices on their key issues. PLAN’s mass liberation project is planning a rally and lobbying day for criminal justice reform issues on March 18.

Other key lobbying days highlighted at Thursday’s event:

  • Feb. 12 — Moms Demand Action Lobby Day
  • Feb. 21 — Black Lobby Day
  • March 12 — Conservation Lobby Day
  • March 23 — Immigrant Lobby Day
  • April 1 & 2 — Grassroots Lobby Day
  • April 15 — Latinx Lobby Day

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.


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