Reviewing More Good Bills from ’23 Legislative Session
Today, Nevada Policy continues its examination of the 10 best bills of the 2023 legislative session.
We went through the first five yesterday and look at the second five today:
6. Senate Bill 220 – Opportunity Scholarships
Introduced by: Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-Senate District 15)
Summary: SB220 would expand the eligibility criteria for scholarship grants by increasing the household income threshold from 300 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, increase the tax credits that the Department of Taxation can approve to $30 million for fiscal year 2023-2024, and 110 percent of the amount for the previous fiscal year for each succeeding fiscal year. Additionally, it adds specific categories of pupils who can receive grants, such as those with an individualized education program, siblings of current or previous scholarship recipients, and children of parents or legal guardians who are on active duty in the armed forces or are police officers or firefighters.
Opportunity Scholarships is Nevada’s sole private school choice program and the only one likely to continue. Tax credit scholarships, such as Opportunity Scholarships, are funded through donations and in Nevada they count as a tax credit against the Modified Business Tax. It’s this mechanism that generally makes them viewed in the school choice world as generally weaker than ESAs or most private school voucher programs.
While the program has been successful in terms of public enthusiasm and educational gains among recipients, Democrats have done everything they can to hamper it. Senate Bill 220 would put the program back on the right track by increasing the number of families eligible, increasing the funding available and reintroducing the funding escalator to the program.
7. Assembly Bill 400 – Governor’s Education Reform Omnibus
Introduced by: The Office of Governor Joe Lombardo (R-NV)
Summary: AB400 would establish the Early Childhood Literacy and Readiness Account, transfer certain excess money in the Education Stabilization Account to this new account; allow charter schools to receive money to provide transportation for pupils; revise the membership and expand the duties of the Commission on School Funding; enact open public school enrollment; establish the State Teacher Pipeline Account; authorize a city or county to sponsor charter schools; create the Office of School Choice; expand and increase the maximum household income of an eligible pupil from 300 percent to 500 percent for Opportunity Scholarships; Revise the Teach Nevada Scholarship Program; create the Nevada Teacher Advancement Scholarship Program, which is similar to the Teach Nevada Scholarship Program; reinstate Read by Third Grade; and allow the governor to designate critical labor shortage positions in schools to be filled by retired employees without loss of retirement benefits, aka double dipping.
Assembly Bill 400 is a doozy. One of the larger bills this session, it comes in at almost 100 pages long. It features an all-of-the-above approach we expected Gov. Lombardo’s administration to take on education There is plenty to be happy with in Assembly Bill 400.
Starting with the best elements, expanding Opportunity Scholarships and introducing open enrollment for public schools is exactly what the school choice movement should be touting. Technically the Opportunity Scholarships provisions of this bill are better than that in SB220. Lombardo’s plan includes adding the gaming tax as an eligible funding source for Opportunity Scholarships and increasing the eligibility to 500 percent of the poverty line, which is higher than SB220.
The open enrollment elements would introduce choice by allowing parents to select a public school outside of their zoned area if there is space at the school. When you mix this with the new pupil-centered funding formula, you have the money following the students within the public school system.
Parents would be able to vote on where they send their children, introducing some element of accountability and signaling to families that their children are not doomed to a failing school if they aren’t wealthy enough to afford a private school.
To get that done, Governor Lombardo is pursuing different teacher recruitment programs in AB400 that will pad the union’s numbers and create a new State Teacher Pipeline Account.
It’s the double dipping provision (in addition to adding $2 billion to public education), that should give fiscal conservatives heartburn in this bill. By giving himself the power to declare certain positions to be a Critical Labor Shortage (CLS), government workers in those positions can immediately declare retirement and start collecting pension benefits while remaining in their position and receiving a full salary. As CLS induces more workers to declare retirement, our Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) will continue to realize financial losses. PERS’ unfunded liability currently stands at over $18 billion.
It is this CLS section that prevents AB400 from really climbing any higher but, the benefits of this bill generally outweigh the cons. If Lombardo and his staff can shepherd this bill across the finish line, it would set a good tone for the administration’s ability to deal with divided government throughout his tenue and start him on a pathway to earn the title he campaigned for – “The Education Governor.”
8. Senate Bill 405 – Governor’s Election Reform Omnibus Bill
Introduced by: The Office of Governor Joe Lombardo (R-NV)
Summary: AB405 requires a person to provide one of the acceptable forms of proof of identity in order to vote in person; requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a voter identification card, free of charge, to a registered voter who does not possess one of the acceptable forms of proof of identity and who is experiencing financial hardship. AB405 would also reinstate the pre-pandemic “upon request” mail ballot provision and revises the deadline for mail-in ballots to be received by the county or city clerk. Instead of being postmarked on or before the day of the election and received by 5 p.m. on the fourth day following the election, the revised deadline requires that a mail-in ballot be received on or before the time set for closing of the polls on the day of the election. Lastly, the bill tightens ballot harvesting provisions requiring harvesters to submit an affidavit and not return more than 30 mail ballots.
Another large bill since the Governor’s office is limited by statue to five bill draft requests (BDR). Senate Bill 405 seeks to enact reasonable election reform measures acknowledging the end of the pandemic by rescinding or altering COVID election measures, enacting voter ID, and ensuring that all mail-in ballots are received and counted in a timely manner. There is board support across party lines for all the measures in AB405. These are common sense and noncontroversial reforms among the general public. Unfortunately, we are living in a Stealer’s Wheel song. Nevada’s election system has struggled to return results in a timely matter in line with best practices across the country and for consecutive election cycles we have been the butt of the joke on election night (or in our case, week). Speeding up the process to ensure results are reported in crucial races in a timely manner is important for the foundational faith and confidence our democracy requires in elections. Add in something as basic as providing an identification card to vote, and we can nip any future claims to election fraud at its core.
9. Assembly Bill 402 – Codifying Governor Lombardo’s Occupational Licensing Executive Orders
Introduced by: Assemblyman Gregory Hafen (R-Assembly District 36)
Summary: AB402 requires each regulatory body to submit a biennial report to the Governor and Legislature identifying the number of states that do not require licensure or provide reciprocity for each occupation or profession licensed and regulated by the body. If the number of states identified is 26 or more, the report must include recommendations for phasing out licensure requirements or implementing reciprocity. The bill also repeals provisions that authorize the Secretary of State to suspend the state business license of a person who fails to comply with controlling health standards related to COVID-19.
Assembly Bill 402 codifies elements of the two executive orders (Executive Order 2023-003 and Executive Order 2023-004) issued early on by Governor Lombardo by requiring occupational licensing boards to report every two years to the Governor how many state the occupations they oversee are licensed in and if (1) a license does not exist in a majority (25 or under), they must provide a plan on eliminating that occupational licenses and (2) if it does exist in a majority (26 or more) of states, they must provide a plan to enact reciprocity or recognition of out of state licenses. Through AB402, Assemblyman Hafen is setting up the Governor’s office nicely to tackle Nevada’s nation worst occupational licensing regime in the future. The reality is that occupations fluctuate from year to year and the trend in the last five years has been a deregulatory one, where states are competing to attract the best talent to grow their economies. AB 402 will help by providing options on how to eliminate the 15 current occupational licenses that do not meet this threshold.
Licensed Occupations in Nevada that fail to meet the presumption in Governor Lombardo’s Executive Order 2023-004 or Assembly Bill 402 with the number of states licensed:
Interior Design 3
Sign Language Interpreter 22
Cement Contractor-Commercial 24
Door Repair-Commercial 24
Floor Sander-Commercial 22
Home Entertainment Installer 3
Insulation Contractor-Commercial 24
Painting Contractor-Commercial 22
Paving Contractor 24
Drywall Contractor-Commercial 24
Terrazzo Contractor-Commercial 24
Animal trainer 7
Crane Operator 16
10. Senate Bill 193 – Commerce Tax Threshold Increase
Introduced by: Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Senate District 20)
Co-Sponsors: Sen. Ira Hansen, Sen. Carrie Buck, Sen. Robin Titus, Sen. Pete Goicoechea, Assemblywoman Jill Dickman, Assemblywoman Danielle Gallant, Sen. Lisa Krasner, Assemblyman Bert Gurr, Assemblyman Brian Hibbetts, Assemblyman Philip P.K. O’Neill
Summary: SB193 increases the Nevada gross revenue threshold at which the commerce tax is imposed on a business entity from $4 million to $8 million earned in a fiscal year.
A simple enough bill to limit the damage done by the Commerce Tax (gross revenue tax or GRT). How the Commerce Tax came to be still upsets fiscal conservatives and is part of the reason former Gov. Sandoval (R) would likely not win a Republican primary these days, but its history is much longer. In 2003, Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) proposed a gross revenue tax in Nevada, but lawmakers rejected it in favor of the Modified Business Tax (private sector payroll tax). In 2011, a modified GRT called a business “margin tax” was proposed but gained little support. A ballot initiative version of the proposal was defeated by a 4-to-1 margin. In 2015, then-Gov. Sandoval included a new GRT in his budget, and after multiple versions were proposed and debated, the final version, called the “commerce tax,” (S.B. 483, 2015) passed with a two-thirds supermajority.
There is no sensible case for gross receipts taxation, or modified gross receipts taxes and there is broad consensus among tax economists that gross receipts taxes are more destructive than alternative tax instruments yielding similar amounts of revenue. Short of repealing the Commerce Tax, SB193 is the next best thing.