Without a doubt, the 77th regular session of the Nevada Legislature will be one for the history books.
This session started with the unusual and slightly disturbing situation of Assemblyman Steven Brooks expulsion — a dubious first in Nevada history — after he threatened violence and demonstrated mental instability. (He would go on to be arrested within hours of his expulsion.)
And that was just in the first month and a half of this legislative session!
Of course, the real history being made at the Nevada Legislature this year, as always, was the life and death of the most interesting, core-shifting, and polarizing bills of the session. Let’s take a look at the bills that will mark this session:
- Nevada joined the groundswell for LGBT equality: With Senate Joint Resolution 13 (SJR 13), Nevada moved one step closer to repealing the constitutionally protected same-sex marriage ban. Because the same-sex marriage ban is embedded within the state Constitution, it will take another passage of both state houses in the next session as well as a vote by the people in 2016. But, as they say, it begins with the first step.
- Big Mining may finally pay its fair share: The no-less controversial SJR15 was a real David and Goliath story and many laid odds that Big Mining would squash the little resolution — that actually could. With its second passage through the Legislature this session, SJR15 will allow the people to vote next year on whether or not Big Mining should pay taxes like every other business in Nevada, by repealing its constitutionally protected tax cap put in place in the 1800s around the founding of the state (really!).
- The humanity of animal cruelty bills: Outside of gun control and the comprehensive sex education bill — more on those in a minute — Nevadans really turned out for bills related to animals and animal cruelty. Shucks, Nevada, I would have never guessed that under that grizzled steak-dinner facade (which makes living as a vegan in Las Vegas particularly painful at times) you got a soft-spot for the birds and beasts of the world. If Gov. Brian Sandoval signs Senate Bill 83 (SB83), Nevada will become the 37th state to make cock-fighting a first-offense felony. Meanwhile, SB72 adds horse tripping to the existing animal cruelty statute. Pitbull owners are celebrating the passage of AB110, which prohibits the banning of a types of dogs based on breed alone.
- Protections for transgender people: A bill adding “gender identity” to the existing hate crimes law was passed and signed by the governor, an excellent sign of progress in our state.
- Homeowners Bill of Rights: You can thank Venicia Considine of Legal Aide of Southern Nevada for the Homeowners Bill of Rights, (SB321), a set of rules that will ease the jumbled process for mortgage-holders and smooth out the bumps for those facing foreclosure. The bill is modeled after the legal framework that binds the five biggest banks to the National Mortgage Settlement, which sunsets in 2015. Chief among the requirements will be a single (human) point of contact for mortgage-holders and forcing mortgage brokerages and banks to streamline the process for refinancing and foreclosures.
- Help for domestic violence tenants: Gov. Sandoval just signed AB286, which offers protections to survivors of domestic violence who may need to break their lease in order to flee an attacker. This is important because often times perpetrators of violence can essentially trap a victim because s/he would face penalties for breaking a lease or rental agreement.
- This series of tubes got more than just porn, you know: It’s possible the Legislature set a speed record in working Gov. Sandoval’s much cherished internet gaming bill through in a matter of weeks. Place your bets!
- Nicolas Cage photo-op not included: It was hard to take Legislators seriously when their twitter and Facebook feeds began erupting with pics of them mugging with the two-time Oscar winner. Gosh, would the Nevada film tax credit bill (SB165) have a prayer? (Cut to: Me rolling my eyes.) I enjoy a Nic Cage movie — incorrect representations of the geography of the Las Vegas Strip notwithstanding — but comeon! It’s hard not to be pissed when the Legislature moves to approve a $35 million tax break for filmmakers the same time that the scandal broke of busing mental health patients outside of the state because of our abominable lack of services (Nevada cut 28 percent from mental health care funding between 2009 and 2012)! It sort of gives new meaning to the Moonstruck scene in which a young Cage cries, “I don’t care! I ain’t no monument to justice! I lost my hand!”
- Light ’em if ya got ’em: Or maybe not. A new law will target underage smoking (if counties elect to use it). Is that still a thing? Kids still smoke cigarettes, says everyone my age and older. And as I write this, it’s still anyone’s guess how that medical marijuana bill (SB374) will fare in the Assembly (it already passed the Senate). There’s a munchies joke in there somewhere.
- The heartbreak kid: The unceremonious death of AB230, the comprehensive sex education bill, was the betrayal heard ’round the land. Progressives (myself included) angrily took to twitter and Facebook to vent their outrage at the cowardly act of Democratic Senate leadership pulling AB230 from the floor for a vote at — you could almost say literally — the 11th hour. And why? Reelection fears for Democratic Sen. Justin Jones’ district, which he won by 300 votes. Jones and other Democrats were shaken by the firestorm and lashed out at me and others who called them out on their broken promises to move AB230 across the finish line. Senate Democrats tried to cajole progressives with the SJR13 win — we got the same-sex marriage win, so shut up! — suggesting that progressives should be pitted against each other, rather than working together. But this cowardly stunt will not soon be forgotten, especially when it comes time to hit the streets for campaign season and when it comes time for me to pick my endorsements. Women are watching, Mr. Jones. Women are watching.
- Speaking of women, how about one more round for Fierce Flores? I considered putting this in the progress category, but really it belongs here with the Uglies. While Assemblywoman Lucy Flores was testifying for AB230 (see above) she revealed publicly for the first time that she had an abortion at age 16. (A story that only I and Reno Gazette Journal’s Ray Hagar wrote about in coverage of the Assembly hearing on April 1 when the comments were made.) Within days, Flores was targeted by anti-abortion activists and received threats on her person. That’s just about as ugly as it gets. But then a funny thing happened. After hearing about this, I stayed up late and wrote a piece about what happened, encourage folks to show their support for Lucy by using the #FierceFlores hashtag. While I have never met Lucy Flores (nor does she represent me), I like to think that the resulting tidal wave of support that came from all over the world with thousands of messages for Lucy, helped to ease her mind. No one deserves to be targeted with violence simply for speaking at a public hearing, no matter what they say. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with the assemblywoman, she did not deserve threats for telling her story. If the #FierceFlores campaign did one thing, I hope it was to show just how much bigger and united those who believe in freedom and choice are compared to those who would rather be fear-mongers of hate.
- Guns, Guns, Guns: The background check bill, SB221, looked to be dead, thanks to Assembly Democrats holding it up in committee yesterday. But in a squeaker, it got through (only to be promised a veto stamp by Sandoval.) Interestingly, bill sponsor Sen. Jones was running around trying to work furiously on amendments or deals that could get it through. So, for those keeping track at home: Jones worked tirelessly on gun control and voted against his LDS church on gay rights, but sex ed? Psssht. That’s just pillow talk, baby. (And just in case anyone is wondering, Jones is my representative.)
- What about the children? I am honestly asking. I know that at the last second Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich managed to milk $2.5 million out of the Legislature for rural colleges. Seems like a pittance to me, but hey, it’s something, right? And late on the final day SB504, which approves funding for English language learner education, passed. So there’s something. There may be a success story if the margins tax — bringing in an estimated $800 million for primary education and the nation’s worst public school system — gets passed by voters next year as Legislators opted to punt, rather than go on the record as voting for a tax increase. I guess the win here is that Gov. Sandoval’s budget puts about $300 million more in to education — which goes a little ways toward plugging the gaping $800 million hole former Gov. Jim Gibbons left (good times). It’s like the proposed margins tax would fix the gap! Those teachers. So sneaky.
- Republicans: For all their cock-blocking of bills designed to raise the caliber of education, quality of life, health care, mental health care, benefits for veterans, safety net services, and generally make life more equitable in Nevada… I gotta hand it to them for sticking to their guns, so to speak. They remained (mostly) unified on their core values. I may passionately disagree with them — and often — but I get the sense that GOP constituents got their money’s worth out of their party.
- Democrats: Holy fuck, Democrats. (Shakes head in disbelief.) Was this the Tale of Two Democrats? The best of the party. The worst of the party. The Dems hold a unique ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and that’s never been on better display than it was this session. I mean, AB230 anyone? Gun control? Education? Or how about presenting a solid fucking tax plan? What the fuck, Democrats?! I hope you use the off-season to get your heads out of your asses. There were some stand-outs who stemmed the tide. But for the most part, if I was a Republican I’d be pointing and laughing at you right now. You managed to take solid wins — like SJR13 and SJR15 — and render them practically token victories (won largely on the sweat equity of outside groups!) against a backdrop of ineptitude and gross incompetence. You went in with majorities in both houses and squandered the lead by second-guessing yourself and aligning with cowardly leadership. Progressives were in a unique position this session to lay any failures at the feet of a GOP governor up for reelection. Instead, high-profile losses came from within. Get it together Dems! People are counting on you!