‘Homeless Persons’ Bill of Rights’ faces opposition from cities, counties, law enforcement
The bill originally specified that an unhoused individual could bring a civil action lawsuit if rights are violated, however the section was cut to appease government officials and law enforcement. (Photo: Ronda Churchill)
Lobbyists representing cities, counties and law enforcement told lawmakers they support the idea of ensuring the rights of people experiencing homelessness – just as long as that person can’t sue to ensure those rights.
Referred to as “Homeless Persons’ Bill of Rights,” Senate Bill 142 was heard by lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday. It would enshrine into state law that a person experiencing homelessness has the same rights as everyone else.
The legislation, which is being carried by state Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Clark), declares unhoused people should be treated fairly, be free from intimidation and harassment, and are able to use public spaces including sidewalks, government buildings and public parks.
The bill originally had provisions that said people had “a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her personal property” and specified that an unhoused individual could bring a civil action lawsuit if those rights are violated.
However, those sections were cut to appease government officials and law enforcement.
Jeff Rogan, who represented Clark County, spoke in neutral of the bill in light of the amendment.
The county, he said, was opposed to the original language because it would “impact our ability to provide services that we’ve provided in the past as well as infringe on our ability to maintain the public spaces for equal use by all of our citizens in Clark County.”
Rogan didn’t provide any examples of how that provision would impede the county’s ability to provide services.
The new section instead says that “homeless persons are entitled to all of the remedies available under state and federal law to enforce the rights afforded to any other resident of this state.”
Lobbyists for the Urban Consortium, which comprises the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas, Reno and Sparks, the Nevada League of Cities, the Vegas Chamber, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Washoe County Sheriff’s office, opposed the bill as they mull over the amendment.
Jennifer Noble, testifying in opposition on behalf of the Nevada District Attorneys Association, said there were still “concerns with the language of the conceptual amendment” but didn’t specify.
Harris said the legislation doesn’t add new protections or prevent local governments from enforcing current laws.
While mostly symbolic now, she said the bill is still important.
“It’s important to make these types of declarations as a sign to our populus about what our priorities are and what our society’s beliefs are,” she said. “I am of the opinion that here in the state of Nevada that we should make it clear that no matter if you have a home or not, your rights are the same as everyone else’s.”
The bill is supported by groups including the ACLU of Nevada, Return Strong, the NAACP of Las Vegas and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
Erica Roth, who testified in support on behalf of the Washoe and Clark County public defenders offices, challenged those opposed the legislation to “point to what dignity or right someone who is unhoused doesn’t deserve to have.”
“Everyday I see how people who are unhoused have their dignity stripped from them by the government, by law enforcement at times, and by people they encounter on the streets,” Roth said. “This bill or rights simply says all people, including those unhoused, deserve dignity.”
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