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November 19, 2017

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Gun background check bill stuck in Assembly committee

A high-profile bill mandating background checks for all private party gun sales has hit a last-minute snag in the Legislature.

Several Democrats in the Assembly have concerns about the bill, precluding its passage on the last day of the legislative session.

Three Democrats are holding up the bill in the Assembly Judiciary committee. They would like to see the bill amended to reduce the penalties for failing to get a background check for a private party gun sale.

“I’m worried about the penalty,” said Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas. “It worries me how we inform the public so unwitting people don’t become criminals.”

Lobbyists working on the bill said that legislators like Ohrenschall are worried that Southern Nevada’s large bilingual population might not understand the bill if it becomes law, and people might inadvertently be punished for their ignorance.

The bill already passed the Senate with 11 Democrats in favor of Senate Bill 221 and 10 Republicans voting against it.

If the bill gets amended in the Assembly and passes with the Democratic majority voting in favor, it would return to the Senate, which would need to adopt the amendment as well.

But despite the Democratic majority in the Senate, the proposal could fail because Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas, has departed from the Legislature to attend to her gravely ill husband. A 10-10 tie vote means the bill dies.

Legislators, lobbyists and staff have been working feverishly during the last 48 hours of the legislative session, with the halls of the Legislature still abuzz late into Sunday night.

Assembly Judiciary chairman Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, was rushing down the stairs of the Legislature from one committee to another as he said he doesn’t know the status of that bill in his committee.

“I haven’t had a chance to count (votes),” he said. “It’s not something I’ll haphazardly schedule.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, was also rushing between committees as he said that “we’re still working on an amendment.”

Meanwhile, Jones moved half of the bill into another bill in an amendment, a move that could acknowledge the background check provisions may fail.

Jones’ bill would require speedier mental health reporting to proper federal authorities. That aspect of the bill could make it more difficult for the mentally ill to acquire guns, which earned broad bipartisan support. Gov. Brian Sandoval also is in favor of the reporting requirements.

Sandoval earlier said he would veto the background check bill.

Jones amended Senate Bill 38 late Sunday night in a quick meeting between senators and members of the Assembly, said Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas.

“The obvious bipartisan crossover points were the mental health reporting (provisions),” Hutchison said. “I’m happy we’ve found bipartisan, common ground. I think Sen. Jones did what any prudent person would’ve done.”

Jones denied that the background check sections in the bill are unpalatable.

“We’re working on it tonight,” he said.

He called the amendment to Senate Bill 38 a “backup” in case the work doesn’t get done.

“If we need more than one vehicle, we’ll have more than one vehicle,” he said.

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