During the last day of the 2021 Legislative session, all eyes were fixed on the last minute bill taxing the mining industry.
But lawmakers also passed a slew of legislation in the final hours, including long-overdue criminal justice reforms, steps toward creating a public health option, and the end of Nevada’s state-run caucus in favor of a presidential primary.
Eviction proceedings. Introduced in the last weeks of the session, Assembly Bill 486 hopes to the answer to the question: how does the state safely lift an eviction moratorium without ushering in a wave of cases?
The bill, which would go into effect once signed, would connect eviction proceedings to the rental assistance process and prevent tenants from being locked out while applications, which are currently backlogged in Clark County, are being approved.
The bill passed 29-12 in the Assembly with one excused and 17-4 in the Senate.
Decriminalizing traffic tickets. After fighting for several legislative sessions to decriminalize traffic tickets, Assembly Bill 116 would make minor traffic violations, such as driving with a broken taillight, a civil infraction that wouldn’t result in jail time.
“Punishing people because they don’t have money is bad economic policy,” Leisa Moseley, the Nevada state director for the Fines and Fees Justice Center, said in a statement. “At a time when so many Nevada residents are struggling to meet their basic needs, this criminalization of poverty is adding insult to injury.”
The historic vote was four sessions in the making.
For years, criminal justice reformers warned the policy of sending people to jail for traffic tickets overwhelmingly burdened people of color.
Recent data from UNLV, which examined warrants issued in the City of Las Vegas from 2018 through July 2020, showed Black and Hispanic drivers, along with those from the poorest ZIP codes, are disproportionately affected.
Despite efforts by organizers, legislation never succeeded. In 2019, legislation to decriminalize minor tickets died after passing the Assembly. Efforts were revitalized at the beginning of the session.
AB 116 passed nearly unanimously in both houses.
In the Assembly, it passed 38-1 with Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen opposed. Assemblyman Richard McArthur and Assemblywoman Cecelia Gonzalez were excluded.
In the Senate, it passed 20-1 with Republican Ira Hansen the sole dissenting vote.
Driver’s license suspensions. Senate Bill 219, another measure pushed by criminal justice advocates for years, ends the practice of suspending people’s driver’s licences when they can’t afford to pay fines and fees for minor traffic offenses. At least 17 other states have adopted measures over the years to end debt-based license suspensions.
“This is another important step toward ending our state’s two-tiered system of justice where poor people – and particularly communities of color – are disproportionately punished. With his signature, Governor Sisolak can make a profoundly positive impact on our state’s economy and thousands of lives across Nevada,” Moseley said.
The bill passed 34- 8 in the Assembly and 17-4 in the Senate.
Inmate deductions. Senate Bill 22, sponsored by state Sen. Melanie Scheible and supported by advocacy group Return Strong and the ACLU of Nevada, puts a limit on how much the Nevada Department of Corrections can deduct from inmates’ accounts. Money sent by friends and family will now be capped at a 25 percent deduction while deductions of money earned through jobs will be capped at 50 percent.
NDOC director Charles Daniels increased deductions to 80 percent without any notice last September. Inmates use money to purchase food from the commissary or toiletry items.
SB 22 passed unanimously in both the Senate and the Assembly.
Public option. Senate Bill 420, which builds off years-long efforts by Democrats to create a public option, establishes a healthcare program that will be overseen by the government but administered by private insurers starting in 2026.
The goal of the legislation is to tackle Nevada’s high uninsured population, but only about 7 percent of the population would be eligible to buy into the public plan. The state will contract out the program’s administration to private insurers rather than the more common understanding of a public option, which is run and administered publicly.
It passed 26-15 in the Assembly with Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy excused and 12-9 in the Senate.
Right to Return. Senate Bill 386, known as right-to-return legislation, requires employers in casino, hospitality and travel-related industries to offer workers who were laid off because of the pandemic a job they are qualified for. The bill, which was supported by unions, doesn’t apply to employers with less than 30 employees.
If an employer declines to offer a worker their job back, they have 30 days to send a written explanation about the decision.
“Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the Culinary Union has been fighting everyday to protect hospitality workers and their families during this crisis,”Geoconda Argüello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary Union, said in a statement Monday. “At the height of the pandemic, 98% of Culinary Union members were laid off and currently only 50% are back to work. While a majority of unionized workers already have extended recall protections in their contracts, a majority of workers protected by this new SB386 law are not unionized.”
The bill passed on party line votes in both chambers: 26-16 in the Assembly and 12-9 in the Senate.
“Behind every worker in this state there is a family and the Culinary Union is proud to have won the Right to Return for over 350,000 hospitality workers in Nevada,” Argüello-Kline said. “The Culinary Union is deeply disappointed that Republicans shamefully refused to stand with their constituents who are front-line essential hospitality workers.”
Good-bye Caucus. Assembly Bill 126 replaces the state’s current party-run presidential caucuses with state-run primary elections with the goal of making Nevada first in the nation — sorry Iowa and New Hampshire — during the nomination process.
It passed the Assembly 30-11 with Assemblywoman Susie Martinez excused and 15-6 in the Senate.
The legislation by no means guarantees Nevada will actually be first, as New Hampshire and Iowa are sure to do whatever they can to retain their spots on the calendar.