Las Vegas Sun

May 29, 2024

State Government:

Senators advance bill that would shield Nevada businesses from COVID-19 liability

Nevada Legislature 32nd Special Session - Day 3


State Senator Heidi Seevers Gansert, center, speaks with Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, right, and Joe Hardy, left, on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020 during the third day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

CARSON CITY — State senators, by an overwhelming majority, early this morning advanced legislation that would extend COVID-19 liability protections to Nevada businesses, nonprofits, schools and governmental agencies while also outlining several measures intended to protect hospitality workers.

Senators, sitting as the Committee of the Whole, supported the measure on an 18-3 vote after the late-night hearing. Sens. Hansen, R-Sparks, Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, and Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, cast the lone votes against the bill, which now advances to the Senate floor for final action as lawmakers continue to meet in special session.

In introducing the bill, Michelle White, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s chief of staff, cited Nevada’s hard-hit economic structure due to the state’s overreliance on gaming and tourism and stressed the need for the bill to strike a balance between protecting businesses and workers.

“No other state in the country is as dependent on the travel and tourism industry as Nevada,” White said. “Our meetings and conventions, and the 42 million visitors we welcome each year are the crux of our economic engine.”

The bill is likely the last piece of legislation to be introduced in the ongoing special session, and is the culmination of lobbying by business and tourism industry groups to protect themselves from litigation due to the pandemic.

The legislation extends COVID-19 liability protections to many businesses, nonprofits, schools and governmental entities that have “substantially complied with controlling health standards.” Provisions of the bill would sunset either upon the termination of the current state of emergency or in July 2023.

It does not extend to most private health care providers, which Hansen said set up hospitals to be a “sacrificial lamb” to trial lawyers.

Unease with the bill’s focus on the tourism and gaming industry crossed party lines. Sen. Marcia Washington, D-North Las Vegas, said she was concerned why the bill singled out hospitality workers.

“I’m here to represent, as far as I’m concerned, represent everybody, all the workers in the state of Nevada,” Washington said.

The bill contains a list of worker protections for hospitality workers, many of which match what has been dubbed the Adolfo Fernandez bill, proposed legislation from the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents more than 50,000 hospitality workers in Nevada.. Adolfo Fernandez was a former utility porter on the Las Vegas Strip who died after contracting COVID-19.

The worker protections in the bill, which apply only to Clark and Washoe counties, require the testing of employees returning to work for COVID-19, daily temperature screenings of employees, notification within 24 hours to employees found to have been in contact with an employee or customer who tested positive for COVID-19, and stops employers from requiring employees with COVID-19 symptoms from returning to work while they wait for test results. It also requires employers to give any employee who tests positive 14 days off, of which 10 must be paid.

The legislation would require daily cleaning of hotel rooms and regular cleanings of public areas in those hotels.

The bill would also send $2 million in federal assistance to the Southern Nevada Health District and $500,000 to the Washoe County Health District. These health districts, upon the request of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, would advise the board on public health matters and be authorized to enforce regulations passed by the Board.

The late hour did not stop public comment on the bill, much of which was in opposition. Much of the comments came from teachers, education activists and hospitals.

Matthew Sharp, a board member with the Nevada Justice Association, criticized the need for the bill at all, stating lawmakers had “a solution looking for a problem.”

“There is a hysteria that has no basis in reality,” he said.

Selena La Rue, a teacher in Washoe County, excoriated lawmakers for, she said, not further protecting teachers.

“I don’t know what happens to a moral compass when you cross the threshold of the Nevada Legislature.”

Marie Neisess, the president of the Clark County Education Association, said that the bill did nothing to help teachers going back into the classroom this year.

“Even with the best safety measures in place, educators and students will still be at risk. Putting a bill in place that protects the employer rather than the employee is unacceptable,” Neisses said. “Yet this bill asks educators to be OK with possible exposure to a life-threatening disease that will hold our employer free of any responsibility.”