Episode 83: Lombardo’s Veto Pen Made a Massive Difference This Year

Marcos Lopez, Michael Schaus

Free to Offend Episode 83 | Guest: Marcos Lopez, Nevada Policy

With a divided government, it’s unsurprising the legislative scorecard would be “messy.”

Marcos Lopez from Nevada Policy joined the program to help sift through the wins and losses of the legislative session — and explain why Gov. Joe Lombardo’s veto pen had some of the biggest wins of all.

Read the Transcript

Marcos Lopez: At least we had a governor that was willing to use the veto pen extensively. I mean, he completely smashed through that previous record of about 48 from Governor Gibbons, and then he went all the way up to like 78 different vetoes he issued. That is a lot of bad policy that reached his desk.

Michael Schaus: This is Free to Offend, I’m your host Michael Schaus. Yeah, obviously we’ve got a lot to cover when it comes to Nevada’s last legislative session. I mean, it was kind of a messy session, but we kind of expected that. I mean, it was a divided government. You had a Democrat controlled legislature. You had a Republican governor. And we knew that there were going to be some wins, some losses, and we knew that it was going to be messy. Messy is probably the best way to put it.

To help us break this down a little bit, I’m very happy to welcome Director of Outreach and Coalitions at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, Marcos Lopez. Marcos, thank you so much for joining us today. How are you doing?

Marcos Lopez: Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here. I’m doing pretty well. It is a beautiful day in Las Vegas, and we don’t have to worry about the legislative session, at least for a while. So, I think everything is doing well.

Michael Schaus: Right? I tell people all the time thank God we only have a legislative session once every other year. That is fantastic. Anybody that says that we should have one every single year, well, they need to just look the last couple weeks of the legislative session and really answer honestly, do we want to deal with this every single year? Because I know I certainly don’t want to

What do you think of this last legislative session? Do you think it was messy? Or maybe a better question would be was it what you expected, or did it really take you by surprise?

Marcos Lopez: This is more of what I was hoping to kind of expect. I knew we weren’t going to see any massive conservative victories. There weren’t going to be any crazy progressive bills that were passed. As you mentioned earlier, you know, divided government does have some benefits, which is the worst ideas of both parties rarely make it. However, the few areas they do agree is certain to make it.

And you know, this is kind of reflective of it. I was more than thrilled compared to my four legislative sessions previously that at least we had a governor that was willing to use the veto pen extensively. I mean, he completely smashed that previous record of about 48.

from Governor Gibbons, and then he went all the way up to like 78 different vetoes he issued. That is a lot of bad policy that reached his desk. And almost all of them really were a win for Nevada taxpayers that they were vetoed because it represented a complete control and command policies of all segments of our society and in our economy, including rent control and prescription drugs.

They had one bill, which I think is the worst as introduced, which was AB 85. And I think we chatted a little bit earlier when we first connected on this, that it would have created a whole new government commission that would have set the prices for all outpatient medical procedures here in the state.

And just think about that, right? We’re creating a board to tell hospitals and doctors what they’re allowed to charge, what the fair price is for whatever outpatient procedure, and if they wanted to charge anything more or less than that, they would have to come to the board and beg for the ability to do so.

I mean, this is just reminiscence of a Soviet style command and control economy. So, it’s very great that we saw a lot of these bills die. We saw even the ones that did make it past that were relatively bad bills in that sense, were watered down quite a bit.

The only thing that I think both sides kind of agreed is still a good thing in Nevada is government directed economic development. And that’s just a hard battle to win and fight just because all the incentives are lined up for legislators to come out and want to support government driven economic development, because it’s something shiny that you can show to voters. It wins them favor and curry in the halls of Carson City with all the lobbyists and all the politically interested groups, which will donate and support them in the reelections.

So that aspect is just so hard to break through. But in the grand scheme of things, this was the worst, best outcome that we could have seen. The governor stood strong on many pieces of legislation, and we did get some small wins out of it.

Michael Schaus: Yeah, I know that you and I have talked about this before – bipartisanship. We always talk about how bipartisanship is needed, or it’s seen as a good thing. But it’s not always a good thing, especially because sometimes when it’s bipartisan, that means it’s a really bad idea that apparently everybody’s on board with. We see this on a national stage when it comes to things like the national debt.

Both parties always seem to agree that “Hey, we should just spend more and more money.” But we also see it on the local level, when you look at things like economic development and, for example, the stadium deal. I mean, the stadium deal was sold as an economic development idea. But everybody, from Battle Born Progress to Nevada Policy to me, to people on the far left and far right, libertarians, conservatives, and progressives all saying, “Don’t do the stadium deal. This is a horrible idea, horrible deal for the state.”

And yet, it went through, and we knew from the very beginning that it was going to go through. We thought it was going to go through fairly easily as well. Why is that? I mean, are we supposed to believe that this form of economic development is actually helping drive our economic engine for this state?

Marcos Lopez: I think to some degree. I don’t think it’s driving the economic engine of the state. The economic engine of the state is being driven by everyday Nevada and starting new businesses by our major industries that run the state in many ways without needing government subsidies to be able to create jobs and foster economic growth.

But I mean, the stadiums, I actually think they had a tougher time than they might have expected. It did take about a week for them to get this settled. And it did require the governor to go back on two vetoes that he issued. One of them was on applying prevailing wage to any type of monorail construction.

And this was meant as something to kind of add it back in. So, if they build some sort of little tram system to connect to the stadium and the casinos and the rest of that, that they would have to pay prevailing wage for that. And I think they actually had quite a bit of a tough time trying to sell this with some of these freshmen Democrats that were in there who were really quite vocal at the end there and towards the middle against this piece of legislation.

So, I think they actually had a hard time. The only problem was it’s a special session, right? Everyone wants to go home. It was put in immediately after the regular session. And governors win special sessions. Very rarely does a governor not get something he wants in the special session just because it is driven in his favor.

So, for him to want to get what he wants, he has to give up some items and we could see it and how the Senate bill one from that special session kind of transformed towards the end to include those two bills that were vetoed as well as all sorts of goodies, basically going to the favored nonprofits of the Democrats.

Michael Schaus: See, and I still think that overall, it was a fairly easy pass. I mean, I know that a lot of people are going to disagree with me on that, but I still think that it passed fairly easily. Yes, you’re right. It was a special session. I think Democrats saw a special session as an opportunity to squeeze the governor for some concessions, basically, “Hey, give this to us. Otherwise, you’re going to look embarrassed.”

But we knew from the very beginning that some form of this deal was going to be passed as soon as it was announced that they were considering it. I think I even wrote an article saying, look, this is going to happen in one way, shape or form. And sure enough, it did.

And, in fact, some of the most egregious aspects of it remained in the bill. I mean, the transferable tax credits. That’s basically just blank checks from the Treasury’s office. I mean, that is a horrible form of “economic development.”

Now, something else that was not a surprise was that Democrats apparently don’t like the idea of entertaining school choice options. And that was something that was that was an absolute heartbreak. We were hoping that with the Republican governor, there would be some sort of compromise on things like opportunity scholarships and charter schools and what have you.

And as it turns out, the Democrat leadership did not want to entertain any of that. I mean, nothing moving on opportunity scholarships. Even some of the scraps that we want to throw at charter schools got nixed by the Democrat leadership. Looking at what happened in terms of education reform, was that a surprise to you, the utter lack of education reform when it came to choice options?

Did that surprise you? Or from the very onset, did you see that Democrats were not going to budge one iota no matter what?

Marcos Lopez: So, that was definitely the heartbreaker of this legislative session. It continues to be a heartbreaker for school choice and education reform movement. In the state, just every session, it’s just harder and harder to get anything done. And finally, this session, the one piece of legislation that was in place in our state for school choices was the opportunity scholarships. It was just axed. I was very disappointed that there wasn’t a special session called for it. And, you know, it could have just been that was the Democrats hills to die on this session, that they were not going to allow any of that to move forward.

I would have liked to see how a special session kind of played off and how they would have been able to go back to their voters if they did hold out without enacting and tell them, you know, “We want you to be trapped in these failing schools,” which many of democratic constituencies actually support all sorts of school choice programs when you explain to them what they are and what they do and the opportunity that they create.

So that is really disheartening. But I think really the path forward now for the school choice movement is let’s move on from the opportunity scholarships. In a lot of ways that was meant to be a way to keep us in the same battle over and over. It again that never made the program permanent. They always made sure that we were holding that carrot over us and we’re stuck fighting there to really distract us from what it was meant to be, which was a compromise to get us to move away from education savings accounts.

And I think that’s the direction we just started heading in as well as the deregulation of private schools overall. It’s very difficult to start a private school in the state. And what we have to make sure is that we have those options, that parents have the ability through competition as prices drop and more introduced to be able to take their child out of public schools and send them to a private school.

I mean, today, public school enrollment is dropping all across the country. We know that it was a recent study that shows that charter schools are outperforming public schools, and all of this is coming together that we need to make sure parents have the options. I think the best way to move forward is enacting ESAs, even if it’s at a restricted level, it’s not universal, which universal is the holy grail for the movement.

And then move towards limiting, removing the limits on the creations of new private schools just so we can become more affordable overall. And there are more options for parents.

Michael Schaus: You know, this is something that I’ve talked with a lot of folks about and people that listen to this podcast are probably tired of hearing me say this because it doesn’t feel like it actually translates to any sort of political wins.

But the school choice movement or what have you, we’re winning in popular opinion. We’re winning the so-called cultural battle. I mean, you look at what’s going on; parents moving their kids out of public school and taking advantage of some sort of choice, even though there is no actual choice program, state run government funded choice program.

That tells you something people are inventing choice for themselves. We saw that during the pandemic with learning pods and homeschooling and the likes. I keep on reminding people culturally the school choice movement is winning.

Now, the question is, obviously, the Democrats are on the losing side of that trend. More and more people are supporting the idea of educational opportunity and school choice. More and more people are moving towards this idea that something like opportunity scholarships or ESAs are a good thing, even for the kids that don’t take advantage of it. Democrats are on the losing side of these cultural trends.

And that tells me at some point, some Democrats are going to have to soften their stance. At some point, some Democrats are going to drop this absolute opposition to it. This has very teacher union driven opposition to it. What do you see as far as the future of Democrat opposition to it?

Do you see that there’s going to come an inflection point where some of these Democrats say, “Hey, look, we have to soften our stance a little bit, and even if it’s just throwing some scraps to some of these movements, we’ve got to do something. Otherwise, we’re going to start losing elections.”

Marcos Lopez: I think it’s inevitable, right? Policies downstream culture. The culture is changing. The way people are approaching this issue is changing. That is one of the great unintended consequences of what happened from the Covid lockdowns; parents were able to see what kids are learning. They were able to see what’s happening.

And they made it even worse when the teachers unions were preventing the students from coming back to school and allowing the schools to open. All of this kind of made parents say, “Okay, what else is there around?” And that’s when they started realizing that they are better options all around them.

I think the Democrats eventually are going to have to give into some of this. And even though, you know, charter schools are something they resisted for so long, they’re slowly coming along on that issue. Some of them are finally acknowledging that charter schools are public schools. The only difference is that they actually can innovate a bit and they can change the way things are operating.

So, I think the momentum of this issue is on our side. We might have lost the battle, but we’re going to win the war.

Michael Schaus: So, what were some of the biggest surprises from this legislative session?

And I mean, for me, there were some surprises. I saw a lot of people were surprised by some of the bills that Joe Lombardo actually did sign. I think some of the ones that he signed, he signed because he’s definitely trying to make a reputation for himself as an independent, as an independently minded Republican governor.

But what were some of the big surprises for you? It could be bills that either were vetoed or signed or maybe things that happened during the legislative session. What were some moments that really kind of took you off guard and you weren’t quite expecting given our divided government?

Marcos Lopez: I mean, for me, it was really the amount of legislation around rent control. This is an issue where Democrats are just not understanding, or they just don’t care that the only way to fix this problem is supply. It doesn’t matter how many subsidies they you give on the demand side. It doesn’t matter how much you try to limit the problem.

None of the places where these types of policies have been enacted, have succeeded. They have failed in San Francisco. They have failed in New York City. They have failed in L.A. And the story is the same. And the fact that some of them get it. But most of them, it’s almost like you’re talking to a wall when it comes to talking about supply and demand and what’s the way to get out of this. So, I think that was the biggest surprise.

I did not expect that many bills to come through. I mean, there were about 5 to 6 different bills, all related to housing. And it was terrible. I mean, there was a California style eviction process that we’re trying to put in at one point, and there was a widespread rent control that couldn’t be more than the cost of living and inflation increase for that particular year. That would be a board that would determine that.

And it was the little ways in which they tried to get rent control in, whether it was just trying to get it in just for trailer park homes. Maybe they were just trying to get it in for senior citizens.

And what really shocked me was that on some of these things, there were some Republicans that kind of bit on these. Particularly in the one for senior citizens and if you were receiving Medicaid. So, it was very concerning.

I think there’s new class of freshmen Republicans. You know, I always give them the benefit of the doubt when you’re a freshman. It’s your first session. You have all these different interests coming to you. It’s a lot to juggle and handle. But they did make some curious decisions and introduced some curious bills.

But overall, again, for me, my biggest hope was that we were going to get a ton of vetoes, which we did, but we did actually get some things done.

I think for me, the three best bills that passed this legislative session, the first one turned out to not be what one of the bills that I was first excited about, and that was Senate Bill 431, which is the Governor’s Government Modernization Act.

Originally, I was a little concerned about that, right? There’d be new cabinet positions. There was kind of a reiteration of a new corporate subsidy slush account. But kind of as the amendments came through, the one thing in there that I always loved was the fact that it was going to raise our rainy day cap up to 30%.

Now we didn’t get the 30%. We ended up splitting the difference. I think we’re somewhere around 28-26% is now the increase. But that that is $300 million new dollars are going to our rainy day fund, which is something that we should be doing, right? We should be saving taxpayers money. We should be paying down our debt and we should be able to cut rate taxes and cut regulations. So, I thought that that was a positive move in the right direction.

The other thing was on civil asset forfeiture. It doesn’t have as much teeth as I would have liked it to, but at least we’re getting more transparency on the practice. And that is Assembly Bill 350.

Now we’ll be able to know what the process and the outcome of the assets being seized was. Did that individual get charged with a crime? Did the crime go through? Did they get convicted? What exactly was this occurring? Was this at a property? Was this at a traffic stop? A lot of useful information for us to be able to kind of figure out how this practice is being used in the state.

And then lastly, I think I would go and probably say that one thing that was a little bit surprising was vetoed was AB 258. Now this is one of the vetoes that I think was probably a bad veto and that was a donor privacy bill. I know this is a very hard issue sometimes for people to understand. But it was just a codefined statute of what Americans for Prosperity versus Bonita Supreme Court decision kind of established- that you do have a right to engage in private speech, and that donors and volunteers of nonprofits organizations should make sure that they have their identities protected and their personal information protected if the government is handling anything.

As we know, sometimes it can be quite harmful to have the unpopular or wrong “opinion” at any given time. And there are political consequences, which might hinder people from wanting to donate to those organizations. So that is one item that we thought was curious that it did end up being voted.

But overall, this is more or less of what I kind of expected of a legislative session. There was a lot of good bills that died relating to emergency powers reform, universal ESAs, and universal licensing reciprocity. That was something on occupational licensing that there was a lot of hope at the beginning of the session.

And while some progress was made in very niche areas, such as joining the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact, or joining the Emergency Personnel Licensing Reciprocity Act, overall, the big moves that we had hoped would fruit come to fruition did not.

Michael Schaus: Now, I want to talk quickly about the general structure of the legislative session, because this is something that I think we ought to harp on a little bit more.

I mean, you know, this year was kind of like every other year. They started off with a bunch of ceremonial stuff. And then all of a sudden, before you know it, they missed the first deadline. And then when it comes to the last few weeks of the legislative session, there’s a mad dash and it’s absolute chaos.

All the rules are apparently thrown out. You’ve got things like zombie bills, you know, things that we thought were dead suddenly coming back to life. And I describe this as chaos by design. I mean, I think the process happens this way because it benefits the lawmakers. They know that in that chaos, they can make things happen that otherwise it wouldn’t survive the scrutiny of a 120-day legislative session.

Am I being unfair to those lawmakers? I mean, what’s your take on the actual structure of the legislative session when you look at how it works every single year, and do you think this is something that voters ought to be paying a bit more attention to?

Marcos Lopez: A hundred percent. I think there definitely needs to be tighter rules towards the end of the session and ensure that there is more transparency for voters in Nevada. In fact, our communications director, Kevin, wrote a great piece in late January on this about the lack of transparency at the legislative session.

I mean, there were entire bills that were passed towards the end that maybe had a 15-minute hearing that had 3 or 4 questions in 1 committee and everywhere else. It was kind of just passed through this process called behind the bar, which basically with no cameras around the legislators get together in a little huddle. And they “hear” bills and then they vote on the bills passing or not with no real record of their vote sometimes.

One that I think was pretty obscene that was done this way was AB525, which is commonly known these days as the Christmas Tree Bill. It was almost $100 million of taxpayer dollars going to 53 politically connected nonprofits, some of which the people who are voting for this bill were on the actual board of these committees.

Like it doesn’t get more conflict of interest in that. And none of these individuals recused themselves. And it’s never been to this level, right? There’s always been a Christmas tree bill in sessions where they had extra money left over at the end, right? There’s no intent there to save it. They just want to get it out the door and spend it as fast as possible.

I think it was Greg Hafen, the Assemblyman out of Pahrump asked, “Oh, so the previous time this was done, how much was the amount that was given out?” LCB came back and said, “We gave about maybe two or three organizations just under $10 million. So, it was probably $9 million dollars.”

This year was a hundred million dollars, just 10 times the size. They had extra cash on hand from all the federal money coming in from the Covid money. And their intent was just to spend it as fast as possible and to make sure that each of their particular pet constituencies got a piece of the pie.

Michael Schaus: Isn’t it amazing how much actually happens “behind the bar”? I mean, I wrote about this with the film tax credits. That was supposedly like two and a half years in the making. They were talking to lawmakers and lobbying, and lawmakers were refining their bills and what have you. And then we didn’t even hear about it.

It took everybody by surprise until a few weeks before the end of the legislative session, they said, “Oh yeah. Here’s a plan to give $4 billion in tax credits to the film industry.” That one of course did not end up passing, but we saw the same thing with the stadium. And we see the same thing time and time again, where the lobbyists and the interested parties are behind the scenes and they’re talking and they’re working with lawmakers, getting everything. And then all of a sudden, it’s kind of poof sprung upon people.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the legislature is exempt from the open meetings laws for the state. So, they have a legal ability to do a lot of this without public scrutiny.

Overall, though, I think that you are right. This is pretty much what we should have expected from a divided government. The massive number of vetoes from Governor Joe Lombardo are very much a good thing.

The question now though is what do you think are going to be the main issues between now and the next biennium when the legislature meets again? I imagine just because Democrats were so focused on at this session That housing issues are going to continue to be a main priority for them. And I imagine kind of unsurprisingly education is going to continue to be a big thing for parents and the Republicans who really wanted to see something done. But beyond those two, what do you see between now and the next legislative session in two years?

Marcos Lopez: I think you’re absolutely correct about those two. I think it will be the Governor’s plan and his PACs to make sure they use education as a bludgeoning hammer and be able to go after Democrats who stood in the way of progress. Specifically, you know, Steve Yeager, the Speaker of the Assembly was a massive hurdle to get anything done there.

And I think housing will definitely come back. The Democrats are going to use that to say, “Oh, Lombardo is with all the landlords. He wants people to be evicted. He wants people to not be able to afford housing.”

So, I think it’s very important that the governor has an alternative plan that he can put forward of how he’s going to increase the supply of housing and bring down prices and make housing more affordable for everyone. Hopefully that’s something that he puts together a task force or something moving forward in the next year.

One thing that I don’t think is over yet is really that stadium deal. We got to remember that the language of the bill within the same deal said, if there is an MLB team that votes to move to Las Vegas, then these kinds of provisions kick in that meeting with the owners. I don’t believe has happened as of today.

But the NSEA is definitely hell bent on trying to obstruct as much as possible, and they’re going to bring forward two basic approaches to try to prevent this from going in. And their first thing is they created this new PAC, Schools Over Stadiums, kind of trying to urge voters to go to a referendum. And they’re trying to get a referendum on the ballots where people can vote directly to repeal this before any money kind of goes in.

This would be the next election. They’d be interested to see if that goes to ballot. Do the judges kind of prevent the bill from going to effect until that issue is settled?

And then the secondly, is they are making a legal argument that since we’re giving them public financing, we’re buying bonds that technically should fall under the two thirds Gibbons rule. Now, that is something that I think is a novel argument that I haven’t heard before, but I am curious to see how the state would react to that argument and what the ruling would be.

Obviously, if they expand the Gibbons rule to include something that they haven’t put before, which is bond issuing, that would create a very new and interesting dynamic for all sorts of budget battles moving forward in the legislature.

Michael Schaus: You know, we’ll see how receptive everybody is to those arguments from the NSEA and what have you. Nevada Policy is going to be releasing their legislative review and report card as they do after every legislative session that I believe will be this fall. Although I don’t know an exact date or what have you, but that’s forthcoming. That’s going to be coming up.

In the meantime, if people want to find out a little bit more about what’s going on or get a little bit of a better handle on what happened during the legislative session, where can they go?

Marcos Lopez: Definitely go to nevadapolicy.org. So we did publish kind of a comprehensive look at what we thought were the top 10 bills this past legislative session. By the time this airs, we’ll have the top 5 worst enacted bills. And then shortly after that, we will have basically the best the best of the best of vetoes because there were just so many vetoes.

And I think it’s important to kind of note what was being thrown out there and why exactly we believe that Lombardo actually did a pretty good job this legislative session. In fact, if it were up to me, I would give him a grade of a B, just on my personal kind of view. Now, obviously we’re going to put our own scorecard out and our scorecard has an objective methodology, not just the does Marcos like this person methodology.

And that I think will kind of illuminate a holistic picture of how this legislative session kind of progressed.

Michael Schaus: Well, Marcos, thank you so much. We certainly appreciate you taking the time again, Marcos Lopez, the Director of Outreach and Coalitions for Nevada Policy.

You know, go to nevadapolicy.org/podcast as well. And there you can not only sign up for these podcasts, so that way they end up right in your inbox, but you can also let us know if there are any guests or topics that you think we ought to cover.

Thank you so much for listening. This has been Free to Offend.

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 Free to Offend:
A podcast that radically defends free speech by regularly practicing it.

Produced by Nevada Policy Research Institute,
featuring Nevada Policy’s Michael Schaus.

Marcos Lopez

Marcos Lopez

Policy Fellow

Marcos Lopez serves as a Policy Fellow for Nevada Policy. For over a decade, Marcos has fought to advance free-market principles, limited government, and secure individual rights through electioneering, lobbying, and grassroots mobilization at all levels of government across nine states and Washington D.C.

Originally from Miami, Marcos moved to Nevada in 2015 and has lived in Reno and Las Vegas, where he currently resides. His main areas of focus include economic opportunity, criminal justice reform, and school choice. Marcos’ work and efforts have been recognized and featured in The New York Times, The Las Vegas Review Journal, The Nevada Independent, This is Reno, and The Nevada Current.