Nevada’s 80th Legislative Session is (finally) over

Michael Schaus

In the last 120-plus days, one thing has become abundantly clear in Carson City: The so-called “special interests” controlling the legislature aren’t working for big corporate entities or shadowy activist organizations.

In fact, the “special interests” with the most pull in Carson City are being funded by you — whether you like it or not.

Nevada’s 2019 legislative session was, by all accounts, a session dominated by tax-funded agencies, government lobbyists and government-sector unions.

Virtually every major piece of legislation saw tax-funded organizations lobbying against the interests of the very taxpayers who fund them. Government unions, lobbyists and agency representatives flooded Carson City to make sure their agenda was prioritized over that of regular Nevadans.

This perversion of the democratic process is a bipartisan affair, and it had a tangible impact on what laws ultimately made it to the governor’s desk. Throughout the session, regardless of the issue, the single biggest factor determining whether a bill lived or died was the government and/or union veto.

Are you a Democrat who believes public schools need more funding? Too bad. Unions demanded, and received, the passage of AB190, which will require public schools to pay union construction workers an average wage rate that is 62 percent above market rates. This excess will take nearly $25 million directly out of the classroom over the next two years, according to the school districts’ own fiscal analysis.

Or perhaps you’re one of the many civil libertarians from either party who believe in reforming the abusive “policing-for-profit” practice, which turns due process on its head and allows law enforcement to seize property of those never charged—let alone convicted—of any crime.

In an effort to end this abusive practice, Democrat Assemblyman Steve Yeager sponsored AB420, an excellent piece of legislation that was supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition that included Nevada Policy, the ACLU, public defenders and others. This commonsense reform passed the Assembly by a landslide 34-6 margin, with all Democrats and half of the Republicans voting to pass AB420, and reform civil asset forfeiture in Nevada.

Government had no need to fear, however, as they had one of their own controlling the Senate: Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro. Cannizzaro, and her Senate colleague Melanie Scheible, are both Clark County prosecutors who work alongside the very law enforcement agencies who directly profit from the current forfeiture system. Unsurprisingly, they fiercely opposed the bill and chose to simply let it die without ever bringing it to a vote.

Perhaps the best example of how blatantly the Legislature serves the needs of government over the people were the attacks on the Opportunity Scholarship program. Assembly Majority Leader Jason Frierson successfully passed AB458, which freezes funding for the program at existing levels, rather than allowing it to increase 10 percent per year as originally intended. Frierson described that annual increase as “unsustainable,” even though public schools will receive roughly $5 billion this year — an amount that dwarfs the mere $600,000 scheduled increase to Opportunity Scholarships.

Of course, Frierson doesn’t actually think such a paltry amount is a serious budgetary concern. Instead, AB458 reflects the wishes of the public school establishment, which fears any measure that would introduce competition or accountability into the system, no matter how small.

Nevada Policy’s full recap of the legislative session is still forthcoming — but this much is certain: The problem of government insiders lobbying against the interest of taxpayers is not a strictly partisan problem. Plenty of bipartisan and even progressive priorities aimed at serving taxpayers were stalled, watered down or even killed as a result of government unions’ outsized influence over lawmakers.

And yet, Nevada Policy was nonetheless able to book several wins. Most notably, in conjunction with the Right to Know Nevada coalition that we helped create, we were able to help move Senate Bill 287 across the finish line — a landmark public records reform bill that will make it easier for Nevadans to access government records.

The bill improves our public records law by requiring governments to work promptly to help requesters find what they are looking for, and, for the first time ever, imposes a civil penalty on government agencies who are found to be in violation of the Public Records Act.

We thank everyone who partnered with Nevada Policy to represent the interests of taxpayers, residents and parents this legislative session. Coalition members, lawmakers who didn’t bend to the political pressure of government insiders, and residents who showed up in force to voice their opinion truly had an impact.

In a world dominated by government insiders, Nevada Policy remains dedicated to giving individual Nevadans a real voice in state policymaking — something that this legislative session has proven is increasingly important.