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October 21, 2014

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Report: Nevada made progressive strides in 2013

Several laws passed will benefit minority, immigrant communities

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Steve Marcus

Virginia Gonzalez, left, gets information from State Sen. “Mo” Denis at the Department of Motor Vehicles office on East Sahara Avenue Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014. Denis is the author of SB 303, allowing for Nevada Driver Authorization cards, which passed in June. DMV offices were busier than usual Thursday as many people applied for the new card, which will allow undocumented immigrants to drive legally in Nevada. Applications for the card began today.

Minority and immigrant communities will benefit from several policy changes passed by last year’s Legislature, according to the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

The approval of driver’s authorization cards, new regulations for legal service and document providers, funding for English-language learners and reduced sentencing for gross misdemeanors were highlighted as major victories in the group’s racial equity report card, released Tuesday.

The report, “Facing Race: 2013 Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity,” also points out defeats, including Gov. Brian Sandoval’s veto of ward-specific voting in local elections and the failure to pass a revision to public school sex education curriculum.

“There has been progress made from the last session and the last legislative report card,” PLAN communications director Laura Martin said. “As Nevada’s demographics continue to change and people see that stark racial disparities are a threat to our economic strength, it’s good that the Legislature’s scores are improving.”

To wit:

• State Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, championed a bill that offers driver’s authorization cards to immigrants without legal residency and others who cannot produce the paperwork needed for a driver’s license.

• Criminal sentences of a year or more can negatively affect immigration status in U.S. courts, and state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, won support for a bill that set the maximum sentence for gross misdemeanors in Nevada at 364 days.

• Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, concerned about the proliferation of legal service and document providers who were running scams involving mortgage refinancing, filing of immigration documents, family court proceedings and bankruptcy filings, authored a successful bill that passed additional regulations on notaries and other legal service companies.

“It’s been such a 180-degree shift from the previous session,” Flores said. “Just in the last two years, a lot has changed. In the 2011 session, there was a bevy of anti-immigrant bills that were being proposed that we had to spend energy and effort on to defeat.”

PLAN identified other victories the organization believes will promote racial equity, including the expansion of court translation services and increased investment in English-language learner programs, the first time state funding has gone to the program.

“I see three things as factors in passage of these bills in the last session,” UNLV political science professor David Damore said. “First, the election of minorities to the Legislature, and the reality of the changing demographics hitting even the Republicans. They may not like it, but they don’t want to be obstructionist. Second, there has been buy-in from the governor, for example on the driver’s authorization cards. Finally, we also now have the beginnings of a Latino activist community that understands how the game is played.”

Damore added that the advent of Latino Lobbying Day in previous sessions, and Immigrant Lobbying Day during the 2013 session, was also a significant development.

Nevada’s population, according to the latest Census data, is 27 percent Hispanic, 8 percent black and 7 percent Asian.

The PLAN report points out several persistent racial disparities in the state. The overall unemployment rate in 2012 was 11 percent, in contrast to 16.4 percent for blacks and 13.6 percent for Hispanics. The white student graduation rate is 77 percent, compared with 60 percent for Hispanics and 50 percent for blacks.

A failed bill, listed in the report as a “missed opportunity,” was Assemblywoman Dina Neal’s proposal to provide small-business loans to minority communities in Las Vegas, where Martin said it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get a line of credit or private bank loan.

Neal, though, said even if the bill did not pass, establishing a legislative history and starting the debate on the issue were victories.

“Even the things that didn’t pass, I still see it as success,” she said. “It opens up discussion and legislative studies are entered into the record that future legislators can build on.”

The PLAN report also highlights the homeowner bill of rights as a key victory, providing resources to residents with delinquent mortgages.

Martin said PLAN was disappointed to see the sex education bill flounder in the state Senate after passing the Assembly, and the governor’s veto of ward voting, which would have eliminated citywide council elections in Henderson, Reno, Sparks and Carson City in favor of ward-specific voting.

Studies have shown that ward voting leads to greater minority representation, according to Damore, and Sparks and Carson City have no minority representatives on the city council and board of supervisors, respectively.

“We were disappointed to see the sex ed bill fail because it touched on so many areas,” Martin said, “It touched on health care. It touches on education and opportunity. … It’s heartbreaking that people don’t understand that not everyone goes home to two parents who talk with them about sex, how to protect themselves and what a healthy relationship is all about.”

PLAN also offers suggestions for the Legislature in its report, including a proposal for a racial impact assessment of every bill proposed, something some local governments, such as Seattle, have adopted.

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