Nevada Legislature Post-Game Wrap

By Sheila Freed

The 2019 Session of the Nevada Legislature is history.   They say politics is a blood sport, so as in any sport, it’s time for the post-game wrap-up.

Lutheran Engagement & Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN) stayed in the game ‘til the end.  We scored some wins and some losses.

One example of this is payday lending reform.  Previous articles have talked about the outrageously high interest these loans carry, and how people foolishly borrow more to pay old loans, starting a cycle of ever increasing debt.

Some bills were introduced to cap the interest rates, but went nowhere.  The only bill that made it through is SB 201, which mandates a state database that will record all the payday loans. This will enable lenders and regulators to know when a person is already “loaned up” and more debt would lead to default or worse.

Another example is the minimum wage bill, AB 456.  The effort to raise the minimum wage was finally successful, after a multi-session effort.  However it’s an incremental process over four years, and it maxes out at $12 per hour.  Twelve dollars per hour is poverty wages in today’s market, so by 2024 the wage increase will not represent much of an improvement, but it’s a small step forward.

A measure to allow workers to use their sick leave to care for immediate family failed.  One wonders what can be controversial about proposals like this.

There are many different agendas, some hidden. Those with the loudest voices and the most economic clout have the most influence.  So Advocacy is a slow process that calls for persistence as well as diplomacy.  If we were a football team we’d be offensive linemen.

The same kind of mixed results  happened in the criminal justice area.

A new Office of indigent Defense will be created to ensure that poor defendants get better legal representation.  A bill was passed to ensure that courts don’t hold a defendant’s bail money any longer than necessary.

However, proposals for Veterans’ Court and drug treatment while in prison both failed. No money was provided for prisoner re-entry programs, and a plan to release more low-level offenders on their own recognizance went down. All proved cost effective, but our legislators did not see fit to support them.

Generally penalties for child sex offenders were made more severe, and services to victims were broadened.  The definition of domestic abuse was broadened, and new protection put in place for transgender persons.

Two bills relating to food both passed.

AB 326 as initially introduced would have created a lending program to help businesses that sell fresh food in so-called “food deserts.”  Before  it got through, the bill was completely revised to provide tax credits to “entities that invest in certain fresh food retailers.”  SB 178 creates the Office of Food Security which will oversee food policy in Nevada, work to enhance food production and economic development, and ensure all Nevadans have enough food and improved health.  As part of this effort, Nevada will work with a group called Food for People, Not Landfills to reduce food waste and better allocate food resources to those who need them.

Numerous bills were introduced to deal with the statewide lack of affordable housing.

One  that made it through was SB 448.  This bill creates a tax credit, virtually identical to the federal tax credit that has existed for many years, to help developers build affordable housing.  Also passed were measures to help local jurisdictions waive impact fees for affordable housing projects, and to extend for a few days the time frames associated with tenant evictions.

Governor Sisolak requested SB 538, and it passed.  It creates the Office of New Americans, which will advise the Governor regarding policy pertaining to immigrants.  The bill mandates that every state agency include on its website information to enable new citizens to interact effectively with those agencies.

LEAN will not be idle during the “off season.”  We will be monitoring activities of the Interim Committees and sharpening our skills on the issues.  We hope to do some training for parishioners as well, so we’ll all “hit the ground running” come next legislative season, February, 2021.