The best offense is a good defense
What can we expect in 2015 as Nevada’s public policy takes a decidedly rightward turn, courtesy of the Republican sweep of the Legislature and constitutional offices?
The policy framework becomes more apparent with each passing day as Republicans begin to formulate an agenda that will highlight many old proposals the Democrats, particularly those in the Assembly, blocked for many years.
It seems everyone is anxious to improve Nevada’s abysmal education statistics, reflected by our consistently poor rankings in the two areas that matter most—number of high school dropouts and number of children enrolled in pre-school.
Republicans have been fond of saying “you can’t throw money at the problem” whenever Democrats point out Nevada’s poor showing in per pupil funding as well. But despite politicians from both parties crowing about increases in education funding in recent years, most of the “extra” money has gone toward “roll-ups,” funding needed to address increased enrollment and inflationary expenses.
Now, Republicans will get the opportunity to pass the education “reforms” that Democrats blocked for decades. You can expect to see legislation to add more charter schools, despite numerous studies that show many of the existing charter schools have failed just as miserably as our worst public schools. Other bills, one with Democratic support, will focus on parental choice, allowing some parents to move their children into better performing schools while leaving children with less involved parents behind.
Teachers will likely lose collective bargaining abilities and other employment protections in the Republican quest to improve individual teacher performance by punishing everyone. And Assemblymember “I’d vote for slavery if my constituents wanted it” Jim Wheeler, now the Republican whip, has signaled his priority will be “protecting” prayer in school.
Will there be a retrenching of abortion rights? Back in 1990, Nevada voters approved Question 3, the Freedom of Choice Act, to preserve abortion rights on the state level, even if the U.S. Supreme Court decided to overturn its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. Only the voters can rescind that constitutional protection in Nevada, but that won’t stop Republicans from trying to chip away at access to abortion any way they can.
It looks like their first effort will be to weaken Nevada’s parental notification law passed in 1985 but never enforced after a legal challenge by Planned Parenthood. Abortion opponents are hoping the new attorney general, Adam Laxalt, will ask the Ninth Circuit to take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court as Montana did when their parental consent law was upheld.
In past sessions, extreme and misleading anti-abortion legislation, such as Sharron Angle’s insistence that women be informed that abortions are tied to breast cancer, were simply not heard. Be prepared in 2015 for other fringe bills to emerge as they have in other states, such as a requirement for a vaginal ultrasound, enforced waiting periods, or access limited by requiring unreasonable building codes.
Will the sunsets finally sunset? In 2009, under the leadership of Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn, the Legislature was unable to balance the budget without “temporary” taxes to raise about $600 million. When Democrats wanted to make the taxes permanent to avoid a battle every two years, Republican Majority Leader, Senator Bill Raggio, made “sunsetting” them after two years a condition of his approval.
Gov. Brian Sandoval couldn’t balance the state budget without the “sunsets” in 2011 or in 2013 so the taxes have continued along with many budget cuts enacted during the recession. Will these taxes appear in the governor’s budget for the next biennium as the state faces a looming budget hole of hundreds of millions of dollars? The answer will be revealed in his State of the State address in mid-January.
But it’s clear, progressives will be in defensive mode in 2015.