Las Vegas Sun

June 27, 2019

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Nevada lawmakers wrapping up after Democrats flex power

CARSON CITY — Nevada lawmakers passed their core budget bills Monday afternoon, fulfilling their constitutional requirement to fund the government hours before they were set to adjourn for two years.

The five main spending bills included more than $327 million to reduce class sizes, $45 million for school safety and $76 million to give state workers a 3% raise.

Passing the budget bills cleared the biggest task from lawmakers' agenda, allowing them to spend their final hours churning through other priorities.

A bill to boost school safety initiatives by $17 million and fund $72 million for teacher pay raises — a top goal for Gov. Steve Sisolak — was nearing final approval Monday evening as it moved through the Assembly.

Two other sprawling bills revamping the state's criminal justice laws and overhauling the way education funding is allocated were awaiting final approval but were expected to pass.

The final day caps a legislative session where Democrats, emboldened by an expanded majority and their first governor in two decades, pushed through an array of liberal initiatives.

They expanded voting rights, toughened gun laws and allowed state workers to collectively bargain.

The Legislature, the first in the country with an overall female majority, also rewrote the state's abortion rules.

The party was also rocked the resignation of two high-ranking Democrats amid scandals and the death of an assemblyman. Tyrone Thompson died May 4 at age 51 while receiving emergency treatment, but his cause of death has not been made public.

His death followed the resignations in March of former Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson and Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle.

Sprinkle quit amid "growing sexual harassment" claims, though further details about the allegations were never made public.

His resignation came a week after Atkinson tearfully resigned over misuse of campaign funds. He later pleaded guilty to wire fraud, admitting to having used at least $250,000 in campaign contributions to lease a luxury SUV, open a Las Vegas nightclub and pay for other expenses.

His replacement, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, introduced in the final days of the session a campaign finance bill late in the session to clarify the rules about personal use of campaign funds, banning candidates from paying themselves a salary with contributions and requiring groups to report donations of more than $10,000 annually. The measure cleared the state Senate on Monday, but still needed approval from the Assembly.

Cannizzaro, a prosecutor in her second legislative session, became the first woman in state history to serve as the senate's leader. The nation's first female-majority Legislature addressed issues like women's health, sexual assault and sexual misconduct.

Legislators repealed some abortion rules, including requirements that a woman be asked about her marital status before an abortion and another that had required physicians tell a woman about the "emotional implications" of the procedure.

They also eliminated a 20-year statute of limitation in sex assault cases if DNA evidence identifies an assailant. Legislators were still considering a bill to allow pharmacists to prescribe and dispense some forms of birth control.

One of the most contentious debates came over gun control in the wake of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. Survivors attended a marathon hearing over a bill to expand background checks on private gun sales and transfers. Republicans, who uniformly opposed the bill, argued it would infringe on Second Amendments rights and not prevent mass shootings.

Supporters acknowledged the bill would not have stopped the Las Vegas gunman from obtaining his weapons but said it was an important step to prevent gun violence. The governor quickly signed it into law.

Lawmakers also approved another gun bill with a so-called "red flag" provision that allow guns to be removed from people seen as a threat to themselves or others. The measure also bans bump stock devices, which mimic the firing of a fully automatic weapon and were used by the Las Vegas gunman.

Other items on progressive wish-lists failed to advance. Two bills to ban the death penalty did not receive committee hearings, and a proposal that would have allowed terminal patients to kill themselves with medication prescribed by a doctor failed to clear a key deadline.