With a more diverse group of legislators than ever, the 79th Session of the Nevada Legislature began on their 120-day journey through introducing, passing and drafting ambitious bills and resolutions on Monday, Feb. 6, in Carson City.
The opening day’s ceremony began with legislators voting Assemblyman Jason Frierson as the speaker of the lower chamber, and thanking their families for supporting them through the legislative process. With the votes from the legislators, Frierson became the state’s first black Assembly Speaker.
Both chambers of the legislature are dominated by Democrats, who hold a 11-9-1 majority in the Senate and a 27-15 majority in the Assembly.
Those Democrats are expected to spark controversy over several of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plans, such as the school voucher program and state taxes.
Nevada education savings account Program
The education savings account program, introduced by Republican legislators in 2015, would give families $5,000 to send their children to private schools. However, when the Nevada Supreme Court heard the case, they ruled that taking funds from the state school budget was unconstitutional.
Advocates for ESAs considered the ruling a victory and said the funding issue was just a minor “fix,” because the program has the right to exist under Nevada law. Sandoval announced in his State of the State Address on Jan. 17 that he would find a way to fund the ESA in the upcoming budget.
In 2015, no Democratic lawmakers supported the program and with a Democrat-controlled legislature this session, the ESA may hit a wall unless a compromise is made between the two parties.
According to the Nevada Appeal, State Treasurer Dan Schwartz will hear questions from senators about the ESA program. Last month, the treasurer’s office released data showing over 8,500 people had applied for the school vouchers.
In 2015, Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, a Republican from Las Vegas, proposed a bill that would allow a person with a concealed weapon carry permit to carry a firearm in public buildings, including on campus. The bill was controversial, causing protests at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, against the legislation.
The controversial bill died in a committee during last legislative session. This session, Senate Bill 102 proposed by Senator Settelmeyer would authorize the possession of a handgun in a vehicle that is on the property of the Nevada System of Higher Education, a private or public school or child care facility.
With almost 40 percent of the seats in the legislature controlled by women, Sen. Patricia Farley told the Appeal that she expects her female colleagues to support bills regarding equal pay between genders, sex trafficking and childcare.
Throughout the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump made controversial comments about women, calling breastfeeding women “disgusting” and saying former Fox News host Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out her wherever.” Trump has also said he thinks women should have “some form of punishment” for seeking an abortion.
“I think it’s important to understand each other on a personal level as we try to work together from our varied backgrounds and try to make decisions for Nevada’s women,” Sen. Becky Harris, R-Las Vegas, told the Appeal.
The women lawmakers will meet on Friday in the first bipartisan women’s caucus, as well as hold meetings outside of the legislative building.
With the passing of Nevada Question 2 in November, Nevada legalized recreational marijuana for adults ages 21 or older. Beginning last month, adults 21 and older are able to possess an ounce of marijuana or one-eighth of concentrated marijuana. The law also allows individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants for their personal use.
While individuals are able to use, possess and grow marijuana, Nevada residents are unable to purchase recreational marijuana until the legislature puts in place the necessary taxes and regulations.
In his State of the State, Sandoval said he wanted to put a special tax on recreational marijuana sales to add to his public education budget. Nevada lawmakers have raised concerns that a high tax may create a black market for marijuana.
Sen. Tick Segerblom has proposed several bill drafts on regulating recreational marijuana in the state.
In Bill Draft 43, Segerblom proposed to authorize local governments to allow marijuana social clubs, events and concert arenas that allow the public use of marijuana.
“If we’re going to bring people here for marijuana tourism, they need a place to use it,” Segerblom told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We don’t want them walking up and down the Strip smoking. Let’s give them some place to go.”