Today marks the start of 77th (regular) session of the Nevada Legislature! Can you feel the excitement? For the next 120 days of the (regular) session, people across the state will be watching (and hopefully participating in great events like Grass Roots Lobby Days) as our representatives tackle the business of the Silver State. And let’s hope it’s with a minimum of grandstanding and politicking over substance.
And perhaps there is a sign of hope for women in this 77th session as the Girl Scouts were invited to present the flag at the opening ceremonies this morning. As Jon Ralston tweeted, it was noted on the floor that this was the first time that girls were asked to do so. I take it as a positive sign for progress on serious issues for Nevadans.
And in the spirit of aspirational thinking — quickly now, before someone does something that obliterates my faith in the process — I offer The Sin City Siren’s Wish List for this session of the Nevada (or ANY state) Legislature:
- Fund Education: Nevada ranks last in the nation in education. DEAD LAST. Likewise, we have some of the highest drop-out rates in the country, an issue President Obama addressed in recent speeches. The good news is, there’s nowhere to go but up. The bad news is, we need to get serious about funding education. STAT! No more of the shenanigans of last session when education was held over a barrel and gutted within an inch of its already sputtering life. The Nevada Education Association has a somewhat embattled plan for a two percent gross-receipts tax on businesses who make more than $1 million. If passed, the tax could raise $800 million annually. (The Clark County School District had a deficit of $400 million during the last session.) If the Legislature punts, the voters will get a crack at it in 2014. And no, vouchers are not the answer. And if you want to talk funds, I’ve got a great place to look…
- Fix Nevada’s Tax Structure: You know why you’ve started to see some glossy ads touting the benefits of mining in Nevada? The Nevada Mining Association is gearing up to quash a required second-session passage of 2011’s Senate Joint Resolution 15, which would amend caps on the taxes the mining companies pay. Big Mining has had their tax rates capped at five percent — not even five percent, since the system is more like a royalties system in which taxes are paid after deductions — and codified in the Nevada Constitution. Why the hell this was ever put in our state constitution…? You got me! It has no business being there. But, since it is, changing it requires two legislative votes and a vote by the masses (in 2014, if the joint resolution again passes this session). The reason why this is a big deal is because the way the current law is written, many mining companies end up paying no taxes at all. And it’s not like they can take their toys and go home. Nevada is home to some of the wealthiest rock reservoirs in the nation (in some cases, the world), so Big Mining isn’t going anywhere! Considering that mining is the second biggest industry in Nevada (after gaming, of course), there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t demand that they pay their fair share.
- Raise the Minimum Wage: Speaking of paying for things, how about we raise the minimum wage in Nevada? Studies show that raising the minimum wage helps end the cycle of poverty for many single mothers — a demographic disproportionately effected by poverty and low-wage jobs. Indeed, raising the minimum wage would go a long way toward helping many Nevadans as well as the economy. Nevada is one of 18 states that sets its own minimum wage, which right now matches the federal minimum $7.25 an hour.
- Paycheck Fairness: And while we’re at it, let’s pass a state version of the Paycheck Fairness Act! After all, Nevada’s wage gap between men and women caused families to lose $2.7 billion (with a B) in 2011 (aka during the last session of the Legislature). That would have covered our state’s deficit problem, plus another $1 billion (with a B). With a state version of the Paycheck Fairness Act, those who violate the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act could be prosecuted for wage discrimination.
- VAWA: While we wait for House Republicans to get it together on the federal Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, which has stalled out for more than a year, I say we take a page from Nevada’s little-known progressive history. Back in 1999, Governor Kenny Guinn became the fifth Republican governor to sign a state-level version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (also known as ENDA), which protects gays, lesbians, and thanks to a bill last session transgender individuals from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression. While the federal level ENDA has failed to make it past the goal line more than once, Nevada was the 11th state in the nation to pass ENDA. Now there are 21 states with ENDA laws (15 of which include transgender). So, let’s take a page from our own playbook! Let’s craft and pass our own state VAWA! God knows we could use it! After all, we have been at or near the top of domestic violence killings and domestic violence is the largest criminal category in Nevada. And who knows? Perhaps we could be leaders (for once) by including protections for Native American women, LGBT individuals, and immigrants. Don’t tell me it can’t be done because of the Rs and Ds. Look at what Guinn did with ENDA. (And Sandoval last session in expanding ENDA, for that matter.) We can get progressive issues through Republican governors. We just have to be willing to thread the needle.
- Comprehensive Sex Education: It’s baaack! Comprehensive sex education from a medically accurate, statewide curriculum could go a long way in making a dent in some of our worst stats: highest in teen pregnancy, high rates of sexually transmitted diseases… Just sayin’.
- Marriage Equality: Come on, let’s face it. A ban on same-sex marriage is tantamount to creating a second-class citizenry. A separate and not equal citizenry. We live in a country predicated on the freedom and equality of all people. Don’t you think when you’ve got Super Bowl champion football players talking about equal access to marriage for the LGBT community, that perhaps it’s time to shed this vestigial tail of a dogma about marriage being a strictly heterosexual enterprise? It’s time. Let’s move forward with a bill to strip the ban on same-sex marriage from our state’s constitution. (What the hell is it doing in our state constitution, anyway?)
- Assault Weapon Ban: Perhaps more controversial than any of the above. Well, maybe. No matter what happens, we’re going to hear about gun control during this session. Despite what you’ve heard, nobody is coming for your guns. In fact, according to some estimates, there are 310 million assault weapons owned by civilians compared to four million — that’s right, just 4 million — owned by law enforcement and the military. The only thing you hunt with an assault rifle is people. Period. But even my Midwestern conservative pro-gun, master hunter uncles will tell you that one of the most important tenants of gun ownership is responsible gun ownership. So let’s not get it twisted. Gun control is about responsibility. If you own a weapon that is capable of killing a large number of people in a matter of minutes, there is a responsibility attached to that weapon that is not wiped away or canceled out by the Constitution.
- Veterans: Nevada’s veterans deserve their due this session. We have one of the highest rates (PDF) of veteran suicide (and rank in the top five states for suicide in general). Nevada’s rate for veterans is 46 per 100,000 population, while the national veteran rate is almost a full 10 points less and the overall state suicide rate is 19 per 100,000. That’s just one area that Nevada’s veterans are struggling. We owe them more than that.
- Mental Health: No, this is not about Assemblyman Steven Brooks. This is about Nevada being the 8th worst state in the nation for mental health services. During the last session, mental health services were cut by 14 percent, a casuality of a deep deficit. But as this homicide in Las Vegas last month shows us, there is a strong need for mental health services in our state. Mental health care is health care and those who need it do not deserve to be stigmatized, villainized, or gawked at on the Legislature floor. All people deserve access to the kind of health care they need. And if our residents don’t already have it, then let’s push our Legislature to ensure we get it.