Nevada Supreme Court to Democrats: The constitution says what it says

By: - May 13, 2021 11:31 am
Nevada Supreme Court

The Nevada Supreme Court (Photo: Shane Savanapridi, City of Las Vegas)

Nevada Supreme Court
The Nevada Supreme Court (Photo: Shane Savanapridi, City of Las Vegas)

The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that two bills passed by Senate Democrats during the 2019 Legislative Session were unconstitutional because they did not pass by a two-thirds majority.

The dispute, filed by Senate Republicans after the last session, involved the state’s modified business tax, which was set to be reduced on July 1, 2019. Democrats on the final day of the 2019 legislative session repealed a 2015 bill containing the trigger for the payroll tax reduction, a move that was estimated to bring in $98.2 million over a biennium.

A second revenue bill involved extending a Department of Motor Vehicles technology fee’s sunset date from June 30, 2020 to June 30, 2022. That bill was expected to collect an estimated $6.9 million each year of the extension.

Both bills passed the Senate on a party-line vote, 13-8, which is one vote short of a supermajority.

Senate Democrats argued at the time (and in subsequent court hearings) that the bills “did not change—but maintained” existing taxes and therefore were not subject to the Nevada Constitution’s requirement that any bill “which creates, generates, or increases any public revenue in any form” pass both houses of the Legislature by a two-thirds majority.

A district court disagreed and ruled in favor of Senate Republicans. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed that ruling Thursday.

In its unanimous opinion, the court stated: “Based on the plain language of the supermajority provision, we conclude that it applies to the subject bills because they create, generate, or increase public revenue.”

Thursday’s ruling will impact ongoing budget and revenue discussions in Carson City, where the current legislative session is scheduled to end May 31.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson released a joint statement placing the blame at the feet of Republicans for not supporting their plan for raising funds for education.

“It is disheartening that Nevada families must pay a price for a lawsuit from colleagues who were unwilling to stop playing partisan politics with our children’s education dollars,” read the joint statement.

In their joint statement, Cannizzaro and Frierson called on their colleagues “to work with us on meaningful revenue legislation this session.”

Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer on Twitter called the ruling “a victory for all Nevadans.”

“The voters placed the two-third requirement in the constitution, and that right is now guaranteed,” he said in a tweet.

Assembly Republican Leader Dr. Robin Titus also released a brief statement: “The Supreme Court’s decision today is consistent with the intention of the law – to protect citizens from unfair taxation.”

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and two mutts.