All eyes are watching the first majority female Legislature in the country, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson declared at the start of the 80th legislative session.
“We must ensure this milestone is not simply symbolic but is instead a meaningful advancement in welcoming all Nevadans to the table and to advance policies for all Nevadans,” Frierson said.
During opening day remarks, both Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson vowed lawmakers would work to fix education funding, respond to the opioid crisis and ensure equal pay. “I am excited for the work ahead and for the opportunity to use the momentum we have now to provide economic security for Nevada families across the state,” Frierson said.
Reflecting optimism that accompanies the start of a journey, both Democratic leaders also reiterated multiple times a willingness to compromise and find common ground with fellow legislators. In addition to controlling the governorship, Democrats enjoy strong majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
Some issues, Atkinson said, should be easy to agree upon, such as improving schools and investing in school safety. Others, like legislation to address shortfalls in health care, might be more contentious.
“We must remember we are Nevadans first,” Frierson said. “I believe that through collaboration, open minds and respect for the legislative institution, we can find common ground.”
One of the first issues Frierson said the Assembly will vote on is the implementation of background checks on all gun sales. “Since we last met as a full legislative body, we have seen the worst and best of humanity in our state,” he said. “On the night of October 1, we all sat in terror and tears as we saw the events unfold.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak and Attorney General Aaron Ford have vowed to prioritize gun safety legislation, including implementation of the expanded gun background checks that voters approved in 2016.
It was 100 years go, Frierson said, that Sadie Hurst became the first woman elected to the Nevada Legislature. The 80th session began by acknowledging the milestones that have occurred since then, in particular those set by the current Legislature.
Women now hold 23 of 42 assembly seats and 9 of 21 Senate seats. Women also chair six of the 10 Assembly committees.
Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson said predecessors such as former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley not only “cleared a path” for other women to rise, but also for the change they are bringing. “It’s a path we will now walk,” Benitez-Thompson said. “Our journey will be embedded in strength and hard work. We will make the state and our nation proud.”
Across the way in the Senate chamber, Atkinson was elected as the first openly gay majority leader.
Among other milestones: Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton now holds the Nevada record for the longest-serving legislator at 20 years; Assemblyman Alexander Assefa is the first legislator who is an African immigrant; Assemblywoman Selena Torres at age 23 is the youngest woman elected to the state Legislature since 1920; and Rochelle Nguyen is the first Asian American Democratic member of the state Legislature.