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Anonymous on June 29, 2009 - 11:53am
The contentious 120-day Nevada legislative session was marked by the Governor vetoing approximately 48 bills, 25 of which were overridden by lawmakers.
Tax and Budget: As with many other states, Nevada's large budget deficit dominated the 2009 legislative session. Leaders from both parties rejected Governor Jim Gibbons' proposed $6.2 billion budget, in part, because of its massive cuts to higher education, state worker and teacher salaries, and mental health programs. Instead, legislators approved a $6.86 billion budget for the next two years that included about $350 million in federal stimulus funds and $1 billion in new taxes, including among other things, increases in the sales tax and Modified Business Tax (payroll tax).
However, the Legislature voted to form a committee that over the next 18 months will sponsor an outside study of the state’s tax structure, make recommendations to change the state’s tax base and start considering ways to elevate Nevada from the basement of statistical comparisons to other states on education, health and human services, economic diversification and other areas. Governor Gibbons vetoed Senate Bill 143, which would have provided $500,000 to pay for the study.
American Reinvestment and Recovery Act: Despite, the severe budget crises the state was facing and Nevada's climbing unemployment rate, Gov. Gibbons initially expressed reluctance about accepting unemployment insurance and education funds appropriated for Nevada under the Recovery Act. Gov. Gibbons asserted that accepting the funds would force the state to make extra expenditures. After reconsideration, the Governor accepted both pots of money; however, he still vocally requested that Nevada be allowed increased flexibility in spending the funds.
- With the passage of AB 16, which requires insurance companies to provide coverage of evidence-based, medically necessary autism therapies, Nevada is now the eleventh state in the country to enact comprehensive autism insurance reform. AB 521 expands health care coverage for full-time, salaried firefighters exposed to carcinogens on the job.
- A couple of health care bills were passed in direct response to the hepatitis C outbreak that occurred in Nevada last year. Under AB 206, staff members who report unsanitary conditions would be protected from retaliation. Lawmakers also approved SB 269, which provides for immediate license suspensions of medical professionals convicted of felonies.
- AB 10 protects nurses against retaliation for disclosing problems that endanger patients at hospitals or other medical facilities.
- Lawmakers overrode the Governor's veto on SB 319. The legislation will expand the reporting requirement for "sentinel events" by medical facilities.
- Legislators also approved AB 123 which calls for unannounced visits by state regulators to ambulatory centers and doctors' offices where physicians perform colonoscopies. These offices would be inspected at least annually and be required to use proper sanitary measures to ensure the safety of patients.
Energy and the Environment: A package of bills on renewable energy was one of the few areas in which the Legislature and the governor’s office reached consensus this session.
- SB 358 creates the renewable energy and energy efficiency authority and establishes the position of the Nevada Energy Commissioner.
- AB 522 extends and improves tax abatements for large-scale solar and other renewables. In an attempt to have the economic benefits pass through to Nevadans, the legislation requires that developers taking advantage of the incentives make a minimum capital investment in the state, create a minimum number of jobs, establish a minimum average hourly wage, and requires a minimum level of benefits, including health insurance to be provided to workers.
- SB395 is part of a package of measures aimed at transforming Nevada from a state that spends $9 billion on fuel costs and importing energy to a renewable energy exporter. The legislation encourages renewable energy development, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and requires state buildings to adopt energy and water efficiency standards. It also increases Nevada’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to require that at least 25 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2025 and requires car dealers to disclose the amount of carbon dioxide starting with 2012 models.
- SB114 ensures homeowner associations cannot restrict a homeowner's right to install and use solar energy systems on his property.
- SB 152 the Green Jobs Initiative would create job-training collaborations throughout Nevada to train approximately 3,200 workers for green-collar jobs and put them to work using federal stimulus money.
GLBT Rights: Legislators passed two bills to improve equality throughout Nevada.
- With the passage of the Nevada Domestic Partners Act, SB 283, over Gov. Gibbons veto, same- or opposite- sex couples in Nevada can now register as domestic partners with the secretary of state. Domestic partners can receive many of the same benefits of married couples such as hospital visitation, funeral planning and community property rights.
- The Legislature also passed, and Gibbons signed, SB 207, which will prohibit discrimination in places of public accommodations, such as hotels and restaurants, against people based on their sexual orientation.
Labor: While labor had some small victories, including improvements to the state's workers' compensation system and mandated safety training for construction workers, public employees faced cuts in pay, pensions and health benefits, plus weakened collective bargaining rules for local governments.
- AB 395 passed by the legislature, but vetoed by the Governor, would have granted state workers some collective bargaining rights for non-economic matters. Unions had viewed this bill as a a step towards one day getting broader negotiating rights for employees.
- AB 243 expands the leave entitlements of employees for attending or participating in school activities of their children in two significant ways. First, AB 243 extends the current protections of Nevada Revised Statutes section 392.920 to the parents, guardians and custodians of children enrolled in private as well as public schools. Second, the bill requires employers of 50 or more employees to grant employees up to 4 hours of unpaid leave per school year for each child enrolled in school, to attend certain school-related activities.
Foreclosures: In an attempt to help address the state's incredibly high foreclosure rates, Nevada adopted AB 149. Under the legislation, people facing foreclosure may request a mandatory mediation hearing with the lender to see whether they can secure loan modifications to allow them to remain in their homes. An estimated 17,700 homes might be kept out of foreclosure if lenders voluntarily agree to new loan arrangements. AB 140 was enacted to protect renters of foreclosed homes by requiring banks and landlords to give renters notice if the home they live in is about to be foreclosed.
Other pieces of enacted legislation include:
- SB 317 requires the Department of Education to ensure that instruction in financial literacy is provided to pupils enrolled in a public high school in Nevada. A pupil must demonstrate satisfactory completion of the instruction by passing a test before he/she receives a diploma.
- SB 408 authorizes payments from a relief account to Nevada National Guard members home from combat duty.
- Legislators passed, and Gibbons signed, a bill to confiscate the assets of pimps and fine them as much as $500,000 for using teens as prostitutes. Funds raised will be used for programs to rehabilitate teen prostitutes. Another new law makes it a felony to solicit the services of a teen prostitute.
- Legislators overrode Gibbons' veto of AB 493, a plan to track investments by the state Public Employees' Retirement System into Iran's oil-energy industry.
Other pieces of legislation that failed:
- In a strong effort to make sure every vote counts, the state assembly passed AB 413, a National Popular Vote bill. However, the Senate failed to advance the bill out of committee.
- AB 99, which if passed would have allowed judges to keep personal information confidential and made it a crime to file false liens against a judge to intimidate or harass, was passed by the Assembly but died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Real ID Failure: In a positive step, SB 52, a bill to bring the state into line with terms of the federal Real ID Act was not enacted. Critics said there was potential for "Orwellian" intrusions into Nevadans' privacy
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