Nevada lawmakers passed bold, historic reforms in 2019
This year’s legislative session offered us an opportunity to tackle some of Nevada’s greatest challenges.
In the 2018 election cycle, we reached a new milestone for our country when we became the first ever female majority state legislature. This means that the 80th Legislative Session was the most representative state governing body since our founding. Not only did the women of the legislature received national and international media coverage for their historic achievement, but we were also recognized for having one of the most ethnically diverse legislatures in the nation.
Earlier this year, Democratic legislators released the Nevada Blueprint, which laid out our priorities for the session. The legislation we prioritized will provide for greater economic success for Nevada families, add new resources for improving our public schools, expand access to high-quality and affordable health care coverage for everyone in our state, and make our communities safer.
As Nevadans, we remember the economic downturn that occurred a decade ago. Since then we’ve experienced a remarkable recovery, but we must remain committed to making sure that no one is left behind as we move forward. We introduced bills that will improve conditions for hardworking Nevadans, create more renewable energy jobs, as well as support small business growth throughout the Silver State. AB132 made Nevada the first state to ban pre-employment marijuana tests. Moreover, with the passage of AB456, Nevada’s minimum wage will steadily increase over the next four years until it reaches $12 per hour. Beginning in July of 2020, minimum wage earners in our state will get their first pay raise in nearly a decade. What’s more is that thousands of workers will be eligible to earn paid leave time for each hour of work once SB312 is signed into law.
We also made critical investments in public education. Members of the Legislature advanced legislation that will give educators the tools they need to do their jobs effectively and create more opportunities for students in urban and rural communities alike so that they can succeed in their academics. To that end, legislators passed SB543, which rewrites the half-century old funding formula so that funds are allocated more equitably, and AB309, a bill that provides counties with greater autonomy to raise revenues for local education initiatives.
Over the past few years, health care for everyday Americans has been under attack at the national level, so it’s up to us to do what we can to increase the accessibility and affordability of coverage at the state level. AB469 and AB170 enact sweeping health care changes which will improve coverage standards and protect people with pre-existing conditions. Additionally, starting next year, Nevadans with health care coverage who receive emergency care in an out-of-network hospital will not be charged amounts exceeding the pricing guaranteed in their insurance policies.
Turning a page in Nevada, we updated archaic laws in our criminal justice system - laws that punish individuals in ways that exceed the level of the harm caused or continue to punish them long after they have served their time. Legislation that passed this year will better ensure that the punishment fits the crime and also help individuals as they transition back into society after they serve their sentence. AB236 provides sweeping changes in our criminal justice system to adjust penalties for non-violent offenders and provide a much greater opportunity to participate in diversion programs. With the passage of AB431, we made it clear: when men and women have completed their sentence and rejoin society, they should be able to fully embrace civic engagement, and that includes restoring the right to vote.
In addition, the legislature took important steps to address the high rate of gun violence in our state. We passed bold safety initiatives, such as requiring background checks on all gun sales, ending the sales of bump stocks, and establishing new safeguards that keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
OTHER IMPORTANT POLICY ADVANCES
Greater access to the ballot box -- Nevada will now have one of the most open and accessible voting systems in the country. This law aims to make the voter registration system more convenient and secure for eligible Nevadans by allowing for same-day voter registration and making it possible for eligible citizens to register themselves online or in-person at a polling location on or before election day. Also, the bill authorizes county vote centers where voters can cast their ballots, giving voters a way to vote near work or on the way home rather than at a precinct in their neighborhood. Additionally, the bill would require the Secretary of State to implement a process for automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles. Another law, AB431, restores voting rights to nearly 80,000 Nevadans who were previously incarcerated. The changes to the state’s electoral and voter registration system will be implemented prior to the next general election.
Improved officer training -- Today, training for law enforcement is as important as doctors attending medical school, teachers receiving classroom management training, or lawyers passing their bar examination. Without necessary training, law enforcement cannot function appropriately. A new program established under AB478 will support continuing education for our peace officers. This law will require the state’s Peace Officers' Standards and Training Commission to include in its guidelines a requirement for all peace officers to annually complete continuing education courses not less than 12 hours of continuing education in courses that address: racial profiling, mental health, officer well-being, implicit bias recognition, de-escalation, human trafficking, and firearms.
Ending private prisons in Nevada -- The private prison industry draws its profits in large part according to the number of inmates housed in its corporately owned and operated correctional facilities. For-profit prisons are first and foremost a business, and their main goal is not to provide for the wellbeing and safety of those in their care. AB183, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, bans the use of private prisons for core services, such as housing and custody, by June 30, 2024. Outlawing for-profit prisons once and for all would better help us achieve a criminal justice system of equity, integrity, and fairness - a system that views prisoners as people instead of profit margins.
More resources to reduce homelessness -- Homelessness is a significant statewide problem. It is going to take a robust, multifaceted approach in order to make any progress in getting individuals and families off the streets and providing them with permanent long-term housing options. AB174 establishes in statute the Nevada Interagency Advisory Council on Homelessness to Housing. The council will bring together a wide range of agencies and individuals to collectively address homelessness and ongoing affordable housing issues in our state. This important piece of legislation was sponsored by Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson who made it his life’s work to end homelessness in Nevada. Nevadans across the state are heartbroken to have lost Assemblyman Thompson earlier this year, but his incredible legacy will live on through bills like AB174.
There is still much more work to do, but this year’s legislative accomplishments are a testament to what’s possible when Nevadans elect leaders that are committed to improving conditions for working families.
The views and opinions expressed in this ‘Opinion-Editorial’ are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Urban Directory, LLC.