With the 81st Legislative Session starting Monday, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada is imploring elected officials to prioritize the needs of the people, who are suffering from historic unemployment rates and an exacerbated housing crisis, over the wants of thriving businesses like the mining industry.
“Our communities will not survive a trickle down recovery,” said Christine Saunders, the policy director for PLAN. “Some of the deepest pains Nevadans felt was due to the state’ unwillingness to aggressively address Nevada’s threadbare social safety net and neglected public services. Nowhere is that more clear than the failures of our unemployment system that has left thousands homeless, hungry and destitute.”
The nonprofit hosted its sixth biennial Progressive State of the State on Tuesday, broadcast a week after Gov. Steve Sisolak delivered his State of the State.
During the 20-minute video, some laid-off workers shared stories about dealing with the unemployment backlog and a teacher detailed the burden she faced in her Washoe County classroom.
Erik Upright, who has dealt with multiple eviction notices from Siegel Suites while struggling to secure unemployment benefits, said he contemplated suicide more than once. He begged lawmakers not to turn a blind eye or “pass the buck.”
“The governor and state legislators cannot wait any longer. They really need to do something about this,” he said.
During his speech on Jan. 19, Sisolak suggested the state needs to do more with less. His newly outlined budget comes months after the 32nd Special Session where the state slashed its budget facing economic upheaval.
But Saunders questioned the choice to reduce budgets and cut funding for education and health services rather than taxing the mining industry as a revenue source.
Among many policies being discussed during the upcoming session, lawmakers will debate state constitutional amendments, three in fact, with an eye toward putting on the ballot and giving voters the opportunity to increase the mining tax as a source of revenue.
However, there has already been resistance from lawmakers on the proposals, as well as legal challenges from the industry and mining counties to thwart consideration of the amendments. A state judge Thursday ruled against a suit filed by rural counties, but the case could be appealed or filed anew upon legislative approval of one of the amendments.
In his State of the State on Jan. 19, Sisolak made no mention of the mining tax legislation — or any tax increase for that matter — as a way to raise revenue. Sisolak hoped that “federal support to state and local governments will be delivered in the coming months.”
Saunders said over the last year, communities have stepped up to set up food banks out of garages, donate stimulus checks to nonprofits, deliver food to Covid patients and construct miniature structures for those experiencing homeless who didn’t have other places to sleep.
“Nevada’s strength is not found in stadiums or by being billionaires’ tech playground. It is in our belief with each other,” Saunders said. “Nevadans dug deep, and now it’s time for the Legislature to do the same. Nevada can no longer prioritize corporations and their profits over the needs of Nevadans.”
‘You need to mean what you say, and say what you mean’
From advancing policies to further protect Black, Indiginous and people of color from environmental racism to investing in mental health and housing, other speakers are looking for lawmakers to take action in the upcoming session.
“Our jails can no longer be used as mental health facilities,” said Jovan Jackson, another speaker. “Nevada needs more legislation that supports long term mental health facilities. People want help but they don’t have an outlet to receive resources. Jailhouses should not be used as a form of housing. Jailhouses should not be used as primary facilities to receive treatment. Diversion programs are needed. Housing is needed. Long term mental health families are needed.”
Following the death of George Floyd and nationwide protests, including throughout Nevada, lawmakers, after being pressed by groups including PLAN, passed legislation in the second special session last summer dealing with police reform.
The bill prohibits chokeholds, requires officers to intervene in instances of unjustified use of force, and sets up a process for collecting traffic stop data.
But legislation didn’t do nearly as much as activists and civil rights groups hoped. PLAN wants the upcoming session to include more aggressive action to deal with the criminal justice system.
“You need to mean what you say, and say what you mean. And the follow-through counts,” said Vera Moore, who runs Divinity House, which helps formerly incarcerated women reconnect with their children. One area she would like to see lawmakers address is the underlying causes that lead to more women being incarcerated.
Noting there have been some victories to protect the environment, reduce carbon emissions and promote renewable energy, Autumn Harry, a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, said officials need to continue looking at policies that address root causes of environmental racism.
She wants to see lawmakers hold accountable corporations who exploit indigenous communities.
“Carbon emissions might be the face of climate change, but it is the ongoing colonialism and capitalistic ideology that are at the heart of climate change,” Harry said.
Because of the health risks caused by the pandemic, groups will have to be creative in engaging lawmakers and sharing their stories about how policies impact communities.
Tuesday’s event was part of the effort to promote stories from the community.
“With the legislative building closed to the people,” Saunders said, noting Covid restrictions that limit access, “it’s clear more than ever today that what our government needs to do is listen to the voices of everyday Nevadans, hear their stories and make policy changes that make lasting differences in their lives.”