CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada lawmakers passed hundreds of bills this week to reform the criminal justice system, boost funding for K-12 schools and ban “ghost guns."
They're expected to work long days until May 31, when the four-month legislative session is scheduled to adjourn. The Democratic-controlled statehouse has already passed dozens of priority bills, but the fate of several major proposals — about energy infrastructure, mail-in voting and laid-off workers who want the jobs they had before the pandemic — remains up in the air.
Here are some notable measures to have passed through the state Senate and Assembly this week:
Two bills sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen that target traffic violations passed through the state Senate this week. The Las Vegas Democrat is proposing banning law enforcement agencies from requiring their officers to meet ticket quotas and issue a certain number of traffic citations over a given period of time. The bills received opposition from some police departments, but won support from libertarians, police reform advocates and police unions. It now heads to Gov. Steve Sisolak for consideration.
She also has a proposal to decriminalize traffic violations and make them civil offenses. Under current law, minor traffic violations are criminal misdemeanors and people who don't show up to their court dates or don't pay the fines can face jail time and the issues that come with having a criminal record. Supporters cited a University of Nevada, Las Vegas study that found Black and Latino drivers, as well as drivers from low income zip codes in Clark County, were more likely to be issued warrants for traffic violations. The proposal passed through the Assembly on Thursday amid opposition from municipalities that rely partially on the fines to underwrite part of their budgets. It now heads to the Senate.
Democratic lawmakers have characterized the traffic measures as part of their criminal justice reform agenda, hoping to limit unnecessary encounters with law enforcement and avoid putting people in prison for things like minor traffic violations.
RACIST MASCOTS and “SUNDOWN SIRENS”
A bill that would direct local school boards to adopt policies that ban “racially discriminatory” mascots, logos and names unless groups such as local Native American tribes consent to their use passed on Thursday through the state Senate. Assemblyman Howard Watts, the proposal’s sponsor, added amendments to prohibit former “sundown towns” from sounding sirens during the evening to herald curfew for non-white residents. Towns like Minden and Gardnerville in northern Nevada for decades had ordinances to stop Native Americans and other non-white people from being in public after sundown. The ordinances were long ago repealed, but the sirens still blare.
The amended measure now heads to back to the Assembly for approval and, if passed, will go to governor for consideration.
K-12 SCHOOL FUNDING
After years of working to alter the state's education funding formula and allocate more funding to K-12 education, lawmakers funneled an additional $502 million to schools. A measure introduced on May 10 passed through the state Senate last week and cleared the Assembly on Friday. It now heads to the governor.
The measure comes two years after lawmakers approved changes to the state’s education funding formula, which centralizes funding into one account and distributes it using “weights” that tie funding to student needs. Early in the pandemic, lawmakers feared they would lack the funding to put the changes into effect, but better-than-projected tax revenue gave lawmakers the funds to increase average per-pupil spending 22%, from $7,400 to more than $9,000 in the 2021-2022 school year.
State senators on Friday passed an amended version of a proposal to ban build-your-own firearms without serial numbers after its sponsor added carve-outs for antique gun-owners who collect firearms produced before 1969. The “ghost gun” ban now heads to the governor's desk for consideration.
An initial version of the bill included provisions that would strengthen penalties against people who bring firearms to casinos that prohibit them. It was amended out amid opposition from criminal justice reform advocates but has been reintroduced as an emergency measure and is scheduled to be heard Saturday.
State senators on Friday voted unanimously for a proposal to ban “non-functional turf” in southern Nevada. The bill would prohibit the use of Colorado River water to irrigate grass in office parks, street medians and entrances to housing developments. It would require removal by 2026 and create an advisory committee to consider exceptions. Southern Nevada gets about 90% of its water from the over-tapped Colorado River. If signed by the governor, the legislation would make Nevada the first state to ban certain categories of grass.
State senators on Monday passed a bill to protect groves of Rocky Mountain juniper trees in northeastern Nevada that the Ely and Duckwater Shoshone tribes consider sacred. The trees, known as swamp cedars, have for years been caught in the crossfire of fights over a proposed pipeline that would transport groundwater to southern Nevada and the growing areas surrounding Las Vegas. The Southern Nevada Water Authority still owns land and water rights in the rural region, but decided to “indefinitely defer” its pursuit of permits last year. If the governor signs the bill, it could present challenges should the agency choose to revive its plans.
This version corrects that a bill in the Nevada Legislature that would ban racist mascots and “sundown sirens” will return to the Assembly to be voted on, not head directly to the governor's desk.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.