Good bills, ‘sensible session’

Bob Fulkerson is state director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

The 71st session of the Nevada Legislature is sine die, yet its actions—good and bad—will affect our lives long after its death. Traditionally, at this time of year, pundits are cynical and highly critical of lawmakers.

I am going to buck that trend. Lawmakers engaged in some sensible public policy-making, and the session had wonderfully humane moments: Lawmakers funded HIV/AIDS clinics, increased child support levels, passed the most worker-friendly needle-stick protection bill in the country, reformed gaming work cards to help casino workers and provided low-income energy assistance.

Lawmakers also made it easier for pregnant women and children to receive medical care by passing an expedited eligibility bill and eliminating the assets test for determining Medicaid eligibility. People with disabilities made modest gains with improved Medicaid buy-in provisions, a study on personal assistants and a raise in pay for attendants.

Perhaps the most progressive bill passed by lawmakers was Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani’s bill, which restored civil rights to ex-felons. And her bill to change the penalty for the possession of small amounts of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor was the right thing to do.

Everyone except Dick Cheney and his pals in the oil, coal and nuke lobby should be pleased with gains made in state energy policy. Utilities must now greatly increase the amount of power they buy from solar, wind and geo-thermal sources, and the cap on net metering has been lifted. And Nevada now has a Renewable Energy Task Force to motivate and support sustainable energy development.

Senator Randolph Townsend (R-Reno) deserves much credit for stopping a patently illegal Sagebrush Rebellion bill that would have allowed county officials to arrest federal wildlife regulators. One of the more head-scratching moments of the session is when this travesty passed the Assembly with only three dissenting votes.

Unfortunately, like every previous legislative session, this one had good bills die in committees and bad bills pass. Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie (D-Reno) lost on a bill that would have prohibited the state from executing mentally retarded individuals. The ego of Senate Judiciary Chairman Mark James (R-Las Vegas) would not let the bill out of his committee until his death penalty moratorium bill passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. So what happened? Both bills died.

Pro-nuclear dump bills and resolutions didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Las Vegas of passing. They demonstrated that, as in the 1940s French Vichy government, there are traitors among us. Most demoralizing was how gaming exerted tight-fisted control over public policy-making. From energy to taxes, gaming got what it wanted.

At PLAN, we’re working to change the power structure in our state. We’ve had some victories, but we have a long way to go. We’ll be back at the 2003 Legislature, working foremost on creating a stable and fair tax structure that adequately funds human services and education, as well as on health care coverage, death penalty revisions and reciprocal benefits for unmarried couples.