Lawmaking gets trimmed down to size

Deadlines are useful tools in the legislative process since it’s human nature to postpone hard decisions, and delaying tactics are a politician’s stock in trade. Deadlines, when enforced, help to curb those traits and are necessary in a term-limited legislature like Nevada’s with just 120 days every two years to get the work done.

The first major deadline came and went last week, taking with it some very good bills such as the abolition of the death penalty, an idea apparently still ahead of its time in Nevada although 19 states have realized that killing criminals doesn’t make us any safer. Some bills featuring fish pedicures, unnecessary voter ID requirements, drug testing of welfare recipients, and a ban on microchipping people justifiably went to the graveyard. Good riddance.

Many of the bills that were introduced by Democrats to great fanfare came out of the legislative deadline day with substantial amendments, weakening the original intent but designed to ensure passage in the other house and hopefully avoiding a veto by the Republican governor. Some progress will be made in areas that should have been addressed years ago, such as requiring medically accurate sex education in our schools. Other bills were scaled back dramatically like the minimum wage bill which now doesn’t raise wages but does rectify a health care loophole some unscrupulous employers were using to cheat workers. Another bill to ban the use of private prisons now allows the practice for at least five more years.

Progressives were delighted to see some truly awful measures from last session die at deadline, including a trio of resolutions that needed to be passed by the legislature again in order to qualify for the ballot where voters would have the final say. There will be no constitutional right to hunt, fish and trap in Nevada. We also won’t further complicate our state’s constitution by placing more restrictions on raising or altering property taxes or forcing a supermajority vote for tax decisions voters approve for themselves. And it’s looking more likely that voters will get a chance to get rid of the “pink tax” on feminine hygiene products.

Many excellent bills made it through the first deadline mostly intact and will head to the next big deadline of first house passage on April 25, including the long-overdue “ban the box” legislation giving applicants with a criminal history a better chance at employment. Another bill makes it easier for ex-felons to get back their right to vote.

There are numerous progressive energy bills that will strengthen Nevada’s transition to a renewable future. A ban on fracking in Nevada moves forward as well. And there are a raft of health care measures in reaction to the national Republican obsession with eviscerating the Affordable Care Act, protecting Nevadans’ access to critical prevention measures including contraceptives. Another bill still in play will put price caps on some pharmaceuticals and bring more transparency to the industry, a move drug companies vehemently oppose.

One bill that has been proposed several times over the years is still alive this session. SB 366, sponsored by Clark County Sen. Yvanna Cancela, a Democrat, will require Medicaid to disclose the number of employees from large businesses—50 employees or more—who are enrolled in the program and whether the business has offered their workers health insurance, shedding some light on employers who have been using public benefit programs to shield their extremely low wages from view. If the United States continues to rely on employer-sponsored health care as the backbone of our fragmented health care system, employers must participate in a meaningful way. Embarrassing them by revealing their parsimony is fair game.

Watch closely now as legislative action intensifies the closer we get to sine die—final adjournment—on June 5.