Democrats used their majorities well
Much to the delight and surprise of many progressives, Nevada’s legislative Democrats emerged victorious from the 2017 session on multiple levels. They took a firm stance against school vouchers, refusing to cave when offered a “deal” that they rightly characterized as containing nothing more than crumbs. In response, the Republican caucuses refused to vote for the budget bills, expecting Gov. Sandoval to produce vetoes that never occurred. The Republicans may have kept a campaign promise to the wealthy parents who wanted taxpayer subsidies to continue sending their children to private and religious schools but instead they ended up with a series of awful votes they will have to answer for in the 2018 campaigns.
The only budget bill that provided some drama in the last few days was the capital improvements budget which needed a two-thirds vote the Democrats could not produce on their own. But even that $270 million budget wasn’t seriously in question as the Governor surely wouldn’t let the jobs bill die. And Senator Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, could hardly return to her high-paying job at University of Nevada, Reno without funding for the university’s new engineering school.
Although many other bills were lost to the governor’s veto pen, the Democratic majorities in the Assembly and Senate accomplished a substantial part of the progressive agenda, reflecting Nevada’s status as a blue state, particularly in areas of health care, green energy and criminal justice reform. They even found a way to partially rescue the Washoe County School District from yet another unforeseen budget shortfall, providing one-time “bridge funding” of $5 million to give the District time to adjust to a new way of calculating the funding formula.
There were some excellent local bills sponsored by Washoe County legislators that passed, including Assembly Bill 379 from Assemblymember Amber Joiner, D-Reno. The bill authorizes local governments to create a parks, trails and open space district. The concept was pushed by the One Truckee River collaboration as a potential method of raising funds to create a linear park district along the Truckee, protecting our natural resources and providing quality recreational opportunities.
AB 203 from Assm. Joiner and Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, restores local government’s ability to regulate cemeteries, allowing them to protect human remains from being disinterred to make way for development without a careful review. The bill grew out of a controversy over the Hillside Cemetery near UNR, home to the remains of members from Reno’s most prominent historical families. Developers had proposed demolishing the cemetery to make way for new student housing.
The Governor did veto several Democratic priorities targeting workers including Senate Bill 196, which would have mandated that large employers provide a minimum of three days of sick leave to their employees and several bills to allow state workers to engage in collective bargaining. Sandoval also vetoed SB 265, landmark legislation from Clark County Democratic Sen. Yvanna Cancela that broke new ground by forcing elements of transparency on Pharma and attacking arbitrary price increases on life-saving medicines for diabetics. However, in typical legislative tradition in Nevada, key elements of that bill resurfaced in another bill during the last few days of the session, becoming part of SB 539 from Senate Republican leader Michael Roberson of Clark County. That bill was approved with the governor’s blessing.
Despite the prevailing wisdom from Nevada’s political class, Democrats emerged from an on-time session united behind their major policy efforts. Although Republicans had declared there would be no budgets passed without funding for the ESA school vouchers, their promise proved hollow without the governor’s veto to back it up. In the end, Sandoval cared more about Nevada’s welfare as a whole than a small number of vocal parents who wanted taxpayer subsidies for their childrens’ private school educations.