2013's legislative legacy I

Political pundits and the privileged lobbying class are fond of dismissing Nevada progressives as a bleeding-heart liberal clan with little money or power. In light of substantial progressive victories this session, it’s time they retooled their analysis.

Two progressive highlights were joint resolutions to change the state constitution, thus escaping the possibility of a gubernatorial veto. Look for Senate Joint Resolution 15, passed in the 2011 session and again in 2013, on your November ballot next year. The measure removes the constitutional protection over mining taxation the industry has enjoyed since the day Nevada became a state. If the voters approve the change in 2014, the method and rate of mining taxation will be open for debate in 2015, when mining can then be treated just like every other industry.

Grassroots progressives are gearing up to work with a newly emerging Republican coalition to battle the financial and legal might of the multinational mining corporations and win over voters. Expect to hear a lot more about fairness in taxation and the need to more adequately compensate Nevada for the removal of our non-renewable resources.

SJR 13, the marriage equality measure, must be approved by the Legislature in 2015 before it can go to the people for a vote in 2016. While a favorable U.S. Supreme Court decision will hopefully make the measure moot long before then, Nevada is now in the midst of the quickly-evolving national debate about marriage.

It was heartening to see how Nevadans’ views on marriage discrimination have changed dramatically in the last few years. At the same time, it was disappointing that only two Republicans voted for SJR 13, one because he has a gay sister and the other in honor of her gay mother. Hopefully a few more Republicans will stand up for equal rights in 2015, regardless of whether they have a gay family member.

Over the last ten years, the idea of creating a driver’s authorization card (allowing undocumented people to legally drive in Nevada) has been floated repeatedly, but no serious effort was made to pass the bill until this session. In yet another clear indicator of the shift in the political winds in Nevada, Senate Bill 303 passed easily, with a vote of 20-1 in the Senate and 30-9 in the Assembly.

Hearings were jammed with proponents, arguing primarily from a safety perspective since these drivers will now be regulated and presumably have insurance. There was little public protest, a far cry from the loud and angry anti-immigrant Tea Party era just a few years ago.

One of the biggest disappointments for progressives was the ugly death of sex education in the State Senate. This was after months of careful preparation, personally difficult testimony, and a door-to-door canvass during the session by a coalition of progressives who decided it was past time Nevada youth had the opportunity to access comprehensive, medically accurate sex education in public schools.

Despite the all-out effort by the Democratic base, and an affirmative vote by every Democrat in the Assembly, the bill was unceremoniously killed by the Senate Democratic caucus on deadline day, with little warning and a mangled message. Was it the Mormon influence? A Senator mad at the Assembly for rightly scuttling a backward-thinking education bill? Or did the Senate Democrats just have an eye on the next election, deciding they’d passed “enough” progressive bills for one session?

The absence of a reasonable explanation enraged young progressives in particular, with a spontaneous eruption of a rare intra-party firestorm on Twitter. As a furious Sin City Siren tweeted: “By the way, if you are worried that voting on progressive issues will hurt your reelection, you may be in the wrong party.”

More good, bad and ugly from the 2013 Legislature next week.