Day Seven: Thursday, August 6, 2:00 a.m.
The 32nd special session of the Nevada Legislature came to a close early Thursday morning.
After the session ended, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson told CapRadio the mixed reactions to police reform bills AB 3 and SB 2 were a good sign.
“When different sides are unhappy, we probably did a decent job,” he said.
Frierson added the issues raised during the special session would be back on the agenda come February, when lawmakers are scheduled to meet next.
“Everything that we do addresses the disparate impact that a lot of the things that we’re going through have on certain communities — in particular communities of color,” he said. “Whether it’s reactions to COVID, whether it’s systemic racism in law enforcement and the court system, I think that we are seeing now that we have to pay attention to these.”
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro also defended the police reform bills that passed. SB 2 rolls back parts of an earlier law providing broad protections for law enforcement officers accused of misconduct.
“I think that what you see is an effort to ensure we can hold officers accountable who are not doing their jobs,” she said. “Officers who are doing their jobs, and doing them well, can feel as though they can keep that job and keep doing it in a safe and efficient manner.”
Lawmakers also approved a bill granting COVID-19 liability protections to private businesses, nonprofits and government entities on Wednesday. But SB 4 generated opposition from politicians in both parties who say it doesn’t do enough to protect Nevadans, because it does not extend immunity to K-12 schools or many health care providers.
SB 4 also mandates workplace protections and cleaning standards, which will largely apply to the hospitality industry.
The state’s largest labor group, Culinary Workers Union Local 226, has been pushing since May for measures to protect casino employees and visitors like mandatory temperature screenings, daily room cleanings and personal protective equipment.
She dedicated the bill to Adolfo Fernandez, a union member who died after contracting COVID-19 while working on the Las Vegas Strip.
“We hope today that we will ensure workers and their families and their families are protected from COVID-19 in the workplace,” she said.
Joelle Gutman Codson of the Washoe County Health District told the Assembly she opposed SB 4, because it only provides funding for additional oversight until the end of the year.
“We made efforts to reach out this session, but we know it’s moved quickly and unfortunately we never got the opportunity to discuss,” she said. “This bill could result in a new fee structure for the inspections mandated after the 2020 funding expires.”
She also criticized the bill’s provisions for worker safety, paid time off for workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 and exposure protocols.
“They are not a recommended protocol and could perpetuate the spread of this virus in our county.”
Lawmakers also approved a resolution declaring systemic racism to be a public health crisis. The document acknowledges the negative health impacts of chronic stress caused by racism and signalled the upcoming regular session would address racial discrimination.
Day Six: Wednesday, August 5, 6:30 p.m.
Nevada’s Legislature is nearing the end of the second special session of the summer.
On Wednesday, the Senate approved a controversial bill granting COVID-19 liability protections to businesses and most of the state government.
Senate Bill 4 also includes workplace protections, like mandatory temperature screenings and daily room cleanings in hotels.
On Tuesday, lawmakers approved the second of two police reform measures. Gov. Steve Sisolak is expected to sign Senate Bill 2 into law.
If he does, it will roll back some provisions of an earlier bill, dubbed the “Peace Officer Bill of Rights.” That legislation was passed during the 2019 regular session and it provides broad protections for law enforcement officers accused of misconduct.
SB 2 allows statements by officers during internal investigations to be used in civil court. The bill also gives departments more time to investigate an officer if a complaint is filed against them — it extends the time window for starting an investigation from one year to five.
But according to Kendra Bertschy, who is a deputy public defender for Washoe County, the police reform bills adopted during this special session don’t go far enough.
“SB2 does remove some of the harmful barriers that SB242 put into law,” she said, referring to the law that established the Peace Officer Bill of Rights.
Bertschy helped write an open letter to lawmakers requesting that they address criminal justice reform before the first special session of the summer.
But she says the campaign to increase transparency and accountability from police is far from over.
“We believe that substantial work is needed to ensure there is accountability and transparency,” she said, “and some form of justice to ensure officers involved in misconduct aren’t shielded.”
Bertschy added advocates for reform would continue to fight for changes to Chapter 289 of the Nevada Revised Statutes in the lead-up to the next regular legislative session in February. That’s the section of the law that regulates police officer conduct.
“That’s something we will be working toward in the interim — trying to reform 289 to ensure officers engaged in misconduct aren’t held in secret and there’s a transparent process,” she said.
The Legislature also approved Senate Bill 3, which implements minor reforms to the state’s unemployment insurance program. The vote was almost unanimous, with only Assemblyman Chris Edwards (R-Henderson) voting against it.
The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation has struggled to keep up with Nevada’s record-high unemployment. It has also been targeted by sophisticated fraud operations, which put additional strain on the system.
Day Four: Monday, August 3, 7:30 p.m.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced sweeping changes to the state’s COVID-19 mitigation plan during a press conference Monday night.
“We are taking a more strategic, aggressive approach that will target this disease where it is spreading and take action necessary to stop it,” Sisolak said.
The new plan will create a system of tracking six key metrics on a county-by-county basis. Those include hospital capacity, access to personal protective equipment, testing capacity, case investigation and contact tracing, the protection of vulnerable populations and enforcement of measures like the state’s mask mandate.
Counties will report those metrics to the state on a weekly basis. The Nevada Health Response Team — an inter-agency group with staff from the governor’s office, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Division of Emergency Management — will track that data and evaluate each county’s risk.
Then mitigation efforts, like occupancy caps on businesses and public gatherings, will be adjusted based on that evaluation.
Republicans like state Sen. Ira Hansen of Sparks have accused Sisolak of applying a “one size fits all” policy in coping with the pandemic.
But recent trends have been troubling, as hospitalizations and new cases continue to climb.
While the governor was speaking to reporters, the Senate approved a criminal justice reform bill prompted by recent protests against police brutality.
Assembly Bill 3 prohibits police from using choke holds and other techniques that restrict breathing and blood flow. It also explicitly protects the citizens’ First Amendment right to photograph or film on-duty officers.
AB3 addresses popular demands for greater transparency, too. It requires all law enforcement agencies in Nevada to report data about traffic stops and other interactions between police and the public to the state government.
The bill covers information about the identity of the person being stopped and where the stop took place, along with details about how the stop is recorded.
It also limits the amount of force police can use when they’re arresting or pursuing someone. They will be allowed to use only the amount of reasonable force necessary, instead of all means necessary.
However, police reform advocates criticize the reasonableness standard itself, saying that it’s often used to shield officers accused of misconduct.
Legislators also approved Senate Bill 1, which will pause eviction proceedings for 30 days to allow tenants and landlords to reach an arbitrated settlement out of court.
Sisolak signed AB4 into law earlier in the afternoon, which will implement a largely mail-in election in November. He is also expected to sign AB3 and SB1 into law.
Additionally, the Senate approved another police reform bill, Senate Bill 2. That proposal would roll back some parts of the “Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights” established by SB242, which was passed during the 2019 regular legislative session.
Day Three: Sunday, August 2, 3 p.m.
Nevada is on track for a mail-in election in November.
State legislators approved AB4 on a party-line vote, which would reform Nevada’s election procedures. The bill creates a new kind of election — called an “affected election” — which comes into play during a state of emergency.
Both the governor and the state Legislature have the power to declare a state of emergency during times of crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic.
AB4 also introduces mail ballots as a new category, which are separate from the absentee ballots that are also commonly known as mail-in ballots.
The new mail-in ballots would be sent to every active, registered voter in the state.
Emily Persaud-Zamora, executive director of civic engagement organization Silver State Voices, called the decision a victory for voting rights.
“We work with organizations that talk to people on a day to day basis around voting,” she said. “A bill like AB 4 is really needed for our communities right now.”
The pandemic has caused challenges and confusion in some recent elections, like the Georgia primary. Thousands of voters there who applied for absentee ballots never received them and the state struggled to provide up-to-date information about polling places — many of which were closed due to fears of COVID-19 transmission.
One result was mass voter disenfranchisement.
Despite the vote to establish an automatic vote-by-mail system, Persaud-Zamora felt let down by Republican lawmakers. Many of them alleged the new system would threaten the integrity of the election, a claim elections experts reject.
“We are a little bit disappointed that this did pass on a partisan note,” Persaud-Zamora said. “Voting rights should not be a partisan issue.”
She also pointed to Nevada’s June primary election, which was the first in the state to mainly use mail-in ballots and saw higher turnout than previous elections.
“What the primary told us was that when we provide ballots to Nevada voters via their mailbox with paid postage, it increases their ability to participate in the election,” she said.
AB4 will be sent to Gov. Steve Sisolak, who is expected to sign the bill into law.
Senate Bill 1 received bipartisan support in the Senate. It would pause eviction proceedings for 30 days, so tenants and landlords can try to settle out of court through an arbitration process.
SB1 still has to be approved by the Assembly.
And lawmakers voted to adopt Senate Joint Resolution 1, as well as Assembly Joint Resolutions 1 and 2.
All three would amend the constitution to raise mining taxes. But before any of them can become law, they still need to be approved during the regular legislative session in February and by voters in a statewide election.
Day Two: Saturday, August 1, 5:12 p.m.
Nevada lawmakers introduced a series of police reforms Saturday, including a chokehold ban and a requirement that police departments submit data about traffic stops and other interactions with the community.
Assembly Bill 3 passed the Assembly Saturday evening with bipartisan support.
The measure would also enshrine the constitutional right to film police officers in state law. Recording images and audio in public spaces is already guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The bill garnered support from both progressive activists and law enforcement officials, who called the Assembly to give public comment.
Wesley Juhl, communications manager for the ACLU of Nevada and a former crime reporter for the Las Vegas Review Journal, supported the chokehold ban and referenced the killing of Tashii Farmer-Brown, who was choked to death by a Las Vegas Metro police officer in 2017.
“Any time you empower police to put their hands on someone’s neck, [they] are going to inevitably lead to tragedies like these,” he said. “But today you can say, ‘enough is enough’ and ban the use of police techniques that restrict the flow of blood or oxygen.”
But some law enforcement representatives opposed the measure. Scott Nicholas of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association said legislators should tell the public not to resist arrest, instead of reforming use-of-force policy.
"Compliance saves lives" he said.
Lawmakers introduced the reforms in response to widespread protests against the police killings of Black citizens, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Miciah Lee, an 18-year-old Sparks resident with a history of mental illness.
Kendra Bertschy, an attorney with the Washoe County Public Defender’s Office, told KNPR’s State of Nevada that lawmakers must change use-of-force policies and adopt changes to the reporting of police interactions with the public.
"What we're asking for is simple, and starting with meaningful reforms that will really assist in creating transparency and accountability, which will lead to trusting our civil servants again," Betschy said.
In the Senate, lawmakers introduced a bill that would reform some parts of the “Peace Officer Bill of Rights,” which provides broad protections for law enforcement officials accused of misconduct.
Specifically, Senate Bill 2 removes a prohibition on including officer’s statements from internal investigations in civil cases.
Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, said it’s unusual for lawmakers to introduce popular reforms during a special session.
“I think it’s a matter of timing,” he said. “With a part-time legislature, we only have one shot at it every other year. And that can be extremely frustrating for those sitting here, seeing what other states have been able to enact already.”
Day Two: Saturday, August 1, 2:35 p.m.
The Nevada Assembly approved a plan to send mail-in ballots to all active, registered voters in Nevada.
Assembly Bill 4, which passed on a party-line vote, was designed to allow Nevadans to exercise their voting rights while avoiding the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The primary election in June was the first mail-in election in the state. Officials scrambled to adopt the change in March, shortly after Nevada’s first confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“In March we did not know about the virus, which we know a lot more now,” Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske told the Assembly. “You have to make these decisions quite a ways out.”
The primary also hit some snags when voters who wanted to cast their vote in person had to wait in line for up to eight hours.
Cegavske, who is the only Republican in a statewide constitutional office, argued in a recent op-ed in the Nevada Independent that the general election would not be conducted with mail-in ballots.
She also says her office lacks the funding to provide mail-in ballots to all active voters in the state, a concern the bill seeks to address by using CARES Act funding to cover additional costs.
Republicans in the Assembly and Senate argued a mail-in election would threaten the election’s integrity.
However, when Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D – Las Vegas) asked Cegavske if her office had gotten reports of voter fraud, Cegavske explained they had not.
“We have not had any cases of fraud that have been reported to us,” she said.
“Mail-in voting is effective,” Torres responded.
AB 4 also allows for same-day registration, so voters who don’t receive a mail-in ballot will be able to vote in person. And Nevadans who prefer to vote in person can do that, too — they just have to surrender their mail-in ballot to poll workers and they’ll be given a standard ballot.
The bill also allows Native American reservations and colonies to create their own polling places.
Day One: Friday, July 31, 3:30 p.m.
Nevada legislators met Friday for the first day of the second special session of the summer.
The first special session, which lasted two weeks beginning July 8, was convened to address a $1.2 billion hole in the state’s budget.
Lawmakers approved deep cuts to services like Medicaid and education, while a last-minute attempt to raise more than $50 million in additional taxes from the state’s lucrative mining industry was voted down by Republicans.
Senators considered reforms to eviction proceedings during their first meeting of the subsequent session. Senate Bill 1 would create a 30 day stay on evictions to allow tenants and landlords to go through an arbitration process.
Gov. Steve Sisolak issued an emergency moratorium on evictions in response to the pandemic, but that is set to expire September 1.
By then, more than a quarter million Nevadans could be struggling to pay rent, according to a study by the Kenny Guinn Center for Policy Priorities.
Nevada Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty told senators that if those predictions were accurate, the judicial system would be overwhelmed by evictions.
“We would be facing an increase in the court’s caseload for evictions, particularly associated with the nonpayment of rent, by three times as much as what we would normally see in an entire year,” he said.
Another issue lawmakers will address is the availability of vote by mail ballots for the November general election.
Nevada has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases since June — the overall test positivity rate for COVID-19 is over 10%, which is double the target rate set by the World Health Organization.
So, Democrats say the state should automatically distribute vote-by-mail ballots to all active voters, so people can exercise their rights without going to polling places. But Republicans disagree, because they say it would cost too much and make it easier to commit voter fraud.
Political science professor Fred Lokken of Truckee Meadows Community College says there’s no evidence to support that claim.
“America doesn’t have a problem with voter fraud, it has a problem with voting,” he told CapRadio. “We’ve always focused on the wrong end of the horse. We don’t have people voting too often, we have too many people not voting at all.”
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