Two Initiatives Lombardo Can Use to Save Nevada

Geoffrey Lawrence

When Gov. Joe Lombardo welcomed lawmakers to Carson City at the outset of the 2023 legislative session, he issued a warning: “Mark my words. If the Legislature can’t make meaningful progress in this critical area, these reforms should be placed before the voters in the next election.”

Lombardo was specifically referring to a slate of election reforms he demanded lawmakers address. Over the four-month legislative session, however, legislative leadership declined to even grant a hearing for most of the governor’s proposals.

This was a pointed break from legislative tradition, as lawmakers typically grant the sitting governor a hearing for his bills even if they don’t expect those bills to progress.

Will Lombardo and his team follow through and organize a petition drive to place policy questions directly before Nevada voters?

If so, he should consider running multiple initiatives simultaneously and qualify a slate of issues for the ballot where Nevada voters can weigh in. After all, it’s cheaper to collect signatures on multiple issues simultaneously than to do so for each issue independently.

Lombardo’s position in January was that lawmakers should address five specific areas of election law. He asked lawmakers to:

  • Require mail-in ballots be received by Election Day so that Nevada can once again tally results on a timely basis.
  • Have mail-in ballots be supplied at a voter’s request rather than automatically.
  • Require voters to show proof of identification.
  • Implement basic regulations to govern ballot harvesting practices.
  • Create an independent, nonpartisan commission to draw legislative districts to move the state away from partisan gerrymandering.

All of Lombardo’s priorities in this area fall within the scope of election law and could thus likely be folded into one initiative petition that conforms with state requirements that initiatives address only a single subject.

However, lawmakers also stonewalled an arguably even more important priority – the expansion of school choice options for struggling Nevada families. Lombardo requested a modest increase in the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program, which awards tax credits to businesses when they contribute toward scholarships for low-income families. Lawmakers instead delivered cuts to that program.

This showdown came just four years after lawmakers repealed a popular law making education savings accounts (ESAs) available to all families. ESAs would have made direct deposits into private accounts held by Nevada families to help them defray the costs of providing an education for their children.

From these accounts they could pay qualified expenses like tuition or tutoring costs, transportation, textbooks and extra-curriculars. Eight states have now adopted universal school choice modeled off Nevada’s ESA bill.

Nevada’s ESA program was never allowed to go into effect, however, because the state supreme court ruled that the program would need its own legislative appropriation separate from the state education fund. No such technical impediments exist to the Opportunity Scholarship funding mechanism. Funding for this program originates entirely from private donations and so the program requires no legislative appropriation.

School choice is immensely popular, especially among low-income and minority households that otherwise could not afford alternative schooling options. Polls show roughly two-thirds of Americans consistently back school choice, led by Black Americans and Latinos. An initiative on school choice would have a high chance of success.

If Lombardo responds to legislative obstinance by pursuing an initiative petition regarding election law, he should couple it with a proposal to remove all limitations from the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program.

Nevada businesses should be able to donate as much as they like toward student scholarships and any student should be free to apply for those scholarships. In a state where public schools have consistently failed to translate greater resources into better results, all families deserve this choice.

Lombardo’s team can and should put it on the ballot.

(This article first ran in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.)

Geoffrey Lawrence

Geoffrey Lawrence

Director of Research

Geoffrey Lawrence is director of research at Nevada Policy.

Lawrence has broad experience as a financial executive in the public and private sectors and as a think tank analyst. Lawrence has been Chief Financial Officer of several growth-stage and publicly traded manufacturing companies and managed all financial reporting, internal control, and external compliance efforts with regulatory agencies including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Lawrence has also served as the senior appointee to the Nevada State Controller’s Office, where he oversaw the state’s external financial reporting, covering nearly $10 billion in annual transactions. During each year of Lawrence’s tenure, the state received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the Government Finance Officers’ Association.

From 2008 to 2014, Lawrence was director of research and legislative affairs at Nevada Policy and helped the institute develop its platform of ideas to advance and defend a free society.  Lawrence has also written for the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, with particular expertise in state budgets and labor economics.  He was delighted at the opportunity to return to Nevada Policy in 2022 while concurrently serving as research director at the Reason Foundation.

Lawrence holds an M.A. in international economics from American University in Washington, D.C., an M.S. and a B.S. in accounting from Western Governors University, and a B.A. in international relations from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.  He lives in Las Vegas with his beautiful wife, Jenna, and their two kids, Carson Hayek and Sage Aynne.