Las Vegas Sun

June 27, 2019

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Cash bail, contraceptive measures among those that failed in Nevada legislative session

Legislative Building

John Sadler

The Legislative Building in Carson City is the seat of Nevada state government.

The Nevada Legislature made national headlines this session, as lawmakers passed historic measures to modernize and increase education funding, decriminalize abortion, tighten gun control laws and more.

Nonetheless, hundreds of bills failed or didn’t make it to both the Assembly and the Senate for a vote before the session drew to a close late Monday night.

Here’s a look at some of the measures that didn’t pass prior to the legislative deadline.

Birth control prescriptions

A bill that would have allowed pharmacists in Nevada to prescribe hormonal birth control in an effort to expand contraception access died just before the end of the session.

Proposed by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, and Senator Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, Senate Bill 361 passed the Nevada Senate unanimously in the early hours of June 3, the last day of the state’s legislative session. But it didn’t make it to the Assembly floor later that night for a vote.

Nevada would have joined at least 10 other states that permit pharmacists, not just doctors, to dispense self-administered hormonal contraceptives pending preapproval from the state’s Chief Medical Officer. Since Oregon passed its legislation in 2015, the first state to do so, about 10% of all birth control prescriptions in the state have been written by pharmacists.

The measure in Nevada would have come at a time when the Las Vegas Valley faces a shortage of OB-GYN doctors. By allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control, women would have had additional options to avoid long wait times for doctor’s appointments, Cannizzaro said when introducing the measure.

About 28% of American women of reproductive age take hormonal birth control pills, the most popular form of hormonal contraception, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Eliminating steps in the process to get a prescription for one of the most commonly used drugs in our country is a common sense measure,” Cannizzaro said when introducing the bill.

Tobacco purchasing age

A bill that would have raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 passed 38-3 in the Assembly, but it did not come up for a vote in the Senate.

Introduced on June 2 by Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, Assembly Bill 544 would have applied to all tobacco products, including cigarettes, vape pens, rolling paper and more. Only active-duty members of the military would have been exempt from the new age restriction.

Wheeler said he was moved to propose the measure because of his own tobacco habit.

“I’m 65 years old and I smoke. I started when I was 14. I don’t want my kids doing it. I don’t want their kids doing it,” he said during an Assembly Committee on Taxation hearing. “It’s got to stop.”

In January, the Nevada Lung Association gave Nevada “failing grades” in its efforts to crack down on tobacco use. To address high smoking rates here, the organization advocated raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21.

Wheeler’s bill drew support from JUUL Labs, the company behind a specific brand of vape pen whose popularity among teenagers nationwide has sounded alarm from parents, teachers and health officials. The Cigar Association of America, meanwhile, expressed opposition.

Nevada would have joined twelve states and Washington, D.C. in which those under 21 cannot legally purchase tobacco products.

Cash bail reform

Assembly Bill 325, which would have overhauled the state’s cash bail system, never made it for a vote in the Senate or Assembly.

Proposed by Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, D-Las Vegas, the bill would have nearly eliminated cash bail in the state, following in the footsteps of states such as California that have outlawed the practice. Critics of cash bail say the system contributes to mass incarceration by keeping the poor in jail and resulting in harsher convictions.

In Nevada, those arrested for certain crimes are held in jail until they can pay their bail, determined based on a standardized bail schedule associated with the alleged crime. AB325 would have required judges to consider all other methods to ensure that a defendant shows up for a court hearing, using bail only as a last resort.

AB325 drew broad support from progressive activists, interfaith groups and the conservative organization Americans for Prosperity. The most vocal opponents were bail bondsmen and representatives from District Attorney’s Offices.

Some provisions of the bill were modified to appease concerns initially raised by law enforcement and District Attorneys, Fumo said.

“The police, the judges, the District Attorneys and the Defense Bar had all come to an agreement. We were 98% of the way there. We had had it resolved,” Fumo said. “And I was told they didn’t want to use my bill.”

Instead, lawmakers threw support behind Assembly Bill 125, proposed by Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas. The bill would have prohibited standardized bail schedules, sped up pretrial hearings to limit jail time to no more 72 hours and asked judges only to use monetary bail if they determined that no other conditions of release could “reasonably” ensure a defendant’s appearance in court.

The bill passed the Assembly 27-12, but it did not make it for a vote in the Senate.

Lawmakers eventually voted to establish a legislative committee to study how to reform the state’s cash bail system, presumably with the intention of introducing pretrial reform legislation next session, Fumo said.

Creation of County Counsel

A bill supported by Clark County officials that would have authorized county commissioners across the state to create an “Office of County Counsel” failed to come before the Senate after passing the Assembly 32-7.

Sponsored by the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs, Assembly Bill 539 would have given counties the opportunity to establish a new, appointed body to perform noncriminal duties currently assigned to District Attorneys. The Office of County Counsel would have been analogous to City Attorney Offices in city governments.

The County Counsel would have been appointed by the County Manager with confirmation from the Board of County Commissioners. District Attorneys, by contrast, which currently provide legal counsel to Nevada county governments, are elected by residents.

The goal of the bill was to separate the criminal duties of the DA’s Office from legal consultation for county officials, Yolanda King, County Manager for Clark County, said in testifying in support of the bill.

While the Clark County Commissioners and County Manager’s Office have a positive working relationship with the DA’s Office at this time, the change would have created needed “independence” across the entities, she said.

“The issue lies where if in fact that elected [official] does change, and there’s a different individual who has different views on perhaps what and how the District Attorney’s Office can run, there obviously could be future issues,” King said.

The bill passed the Assembly on May 24, but died when the session ended.