The 32nd Special Session of the Nevada Legislature covered a lot of ground in six days. The topics included in Gov. Steve Sisolak’s official proclamation included business liability and worker protections, election protections, unemployment expansion, criminal justice reform and evictions.
Here’s a quick recap:
Business liability, with a splash of worker protections
Senate Bill 4 addressed two things. First and foremost, it provides covid-related liability protections for almost all businesses, nonprofits and government entities, with the notable exceptions of hospitals, health care providers and K-12 public schools. Second, the bill sets health and safety standards and worker protections for the hospitality industry.
Essentially the bill makes it more difficult for people to bring covid-related lawsuits against most businesses or government entities. Someone would have to prove the business in question was not in “substantial compliance” of the “prevailing health standards” in place at the time — a higher barrier than exists normally. That liability protection is either good for the economy because it shields businesses from frivolous lawsuits and gives them the confidence to reopen without fear of litigation, or it’s a greenlight for companies to cut corners on safety because they are less fearful of litigation. Or maybe it’s both. The interpretation depends on who you ask.
The governor’s general counsel admitted the bill was the product of negotiations between “the most important members of the economy” but he did not disclose exactly which groups that included. Although the bill passed with bipartisan support (and bipartisan opposition) in both chambers, even those who voted for it expressed their reluctance — either because the bill provides no worker protections for workers in other essential industries, or because they believed the exclusion of health care providers and K-12 public schools was arbitrary and done solely for political purposes.
Expanded voting options for 2020 General Election
Assembly Bill 4 creates new standards for holding elections during declared emergencies, including the one we are currently in. Most notably, the bill requires counties to mail ballots to all active registered voters but still offer a certain number of physical vote centers or polling places during the state’s mandatory two-week early voting period and on election day.
The bill couldn’t come quickly enough for election officials, who just prior to the start of the special session told the Current they needed direction in order to properly prepare for what many believe could be record turnout come November. Clark County’s top election official had already publicly stated he wanted to move to an all-mail format, but that plan was iced by Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, whose opinion was that physical locations and existing laws allowing anyone to request an absentee ballot would suffice.
AB4 inspired a disapproving tweet from President Trump, a lawsuit from his campaign and Republican Party groups, and an accompanying national spotlight in a media cycle.
Senate Bill 3 removes glitches and bureaucratic roadblocks that have left some Nevadans waiting months for unemployment benefits. Additionally, it allows residents to maximize their benefits, earn more without losing benefits and defines terms under which a worker is eligible for unemployment. The bill passed nearly unanimously, with Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards as the lone holdout over concerns that the bill doesn’t do enough to address the state’s issues with the unemployment insurance program.
After signing SB3 into law Thursday, Sisolak announced that former Speaker Barbara Buckley has begun heading a “strike force” focused on addressing the beleaguered unemployment insurance system. He also announced the appointment of a new director, who comes from the state’s welfare division.
A step toward criminal justice reform
In the wake of nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, Nevadans took to the streets seeking reforms to the justice system and demanding more police accountability. The Nevada Legislature’s primary answer to that came in the form of Assembly Bill 3.
Civil rights groups and criminal reform activists characterized the bill as a small but meaningful step that addresses some of the requests of the community. The bill:
- Prohibits an officer from using a chokehold or restricting an airway of a person in custody.
- Changes existing law to say officers can only use reasonable force rather than “all necessary means” when making an arrest.
- Calls for officers to intervene and report unjustified use of force.
- Requires officers to look for signs of distress and ensure medical aid is given to a person if they are injured during the arrest.
- Mandates law enforcement to adopt a written policy on drug and alcohol testing after an officer involved shootings or in cases of substantial bodily harm.
- Sets up a process for collecting data during traffic stops.
The legislation received significant input from Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department lobbyist Chuck Callaway and even a few law enforcement agencies including the City of Henderson Police Department testified in favor. Some say it doesn’t go far enough nor is it an adequate response to the Black Lives Matter movement and national protests.
Calls for bill repeal answered with bill tweaks
Senate Bill 2 makes revisions to Nevada’s Officer Bill of Rights, which was established during the last regular legislative session.
The 2019 bill (Senate Bill 242) was opposed by criminal justice reform groups and some police unions. It allowed for the questioning of officers by superiors to stop under certain circumstances, prohibited an officer’s compelled statement from being used in certain civil cases, allowed a representative from the officer under investigation to have access to all evidence pertaining to the complaint and put a time limit on investigating alleged misconduct.
SB 2 revised the law to put limits on when a representative of the officer can inspect evidence associated with the complaint, get rid of a prohibition of using an officer’s compelled statement and expand the statute of limitations for launching an investigation into police misconduct from one year to five. Reform advocates generally condemned the legislation, arguing legislators should have instead repealed SB 242.
Three’s company when it comes to mining proposals
Legislators passed three proposed constitutional amendments, all related to mining.
Assembly Joint Resolution 1 & Senate Joint Resolution 1 would both tax mining on 7.75 percent of their gross proceeds of minerals. Currently, mining companies are taxed on their net proceeds of minerals and the tax rate is capped at 5 percent.
AJR1 would send 75 percent of revenue raised to the state general fund and 25 percent to a new account to be used for educational purposes, health care or economic assistance for residents. SJR1 would send 50 percent of revenue raised to the state general fund and 50 percent to a new program that makes payment to residents, presumably like an Alaska-style dividend.
Assembly Joint Resolution 2 would raise the tax cap from 5 percent to 12 percent of net proceeds. The proposal was introduced as an “olive branch” to the mining industry, according to Speaker Jason Frierson.
All three resolutions will again be considered by the 2021 Legislature, which is expected to approve one plan. That plan would go before voters as a ballot question in the 2022 general election.
Nevada’s existing moratorium on eviction for nonpayment of rent is set to expire Sept. 1, which could result in a tidal wave of evictions this fall. Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty said the court system could see three times as many cases as normal, which would overload judges and potentially delay judgements.
Senate Bill 1 stays an eviction for no longer than 30 days in order for tenants and landlords to negotiate solutions through an alternative dispute resolution program.
The courts will have to determine the parameters of that mediation program.
Remote technology, misc.
Assembly Bill 2 allows legislators to use remote technology during interim legislative committee meetings. The bill is only applicable to the current pandemic, though lawmakers during the 2021 Legislature could reconsider and allow the use of remote technology to be a permanent feature.
The bill also offered clarity on what could have been a confusing scenario related to special sessions and the passage of any constitutional amendment proposals — something this special session did three times over.
Legislative Counsel Bureau staff also used the bill to modify some staffing titles and positions.
Typos and technical corrections
Assembly Bill 1 corrected technical errors in several 2019 bills. The changes do not alter the intent or implementation of any previously passed bills. Instead, they correct errors such as referencing the wrong section of Nevada Revised Statutes.