Winning ground in 2003

An alliance of progressive agencies lists several highs—and a few lows—of the 2003 Nevada Legislature

Jan Gilbert, a lobbyist for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and its numerous member groups, came out of 2003 Nevada Legislature feeling positive. There’d been some successes. Four of six death penalty reforms plugged by PLAN were passed, as was the restoration of voting rights for first-time felons who’d done their time and successfully completed conditions of parole.

“These things help change the system and make it fairer,” Gilbert said.

Progress was also evident with renewable-energy legislation. One approved bill increases the opportunity for folks who use solar and wind power to supplement their Sierra Pacific or Nevada Power service to sell excess juice back to the utility.

These are the kinds of actions that wouldn’t be changed even if the governor were to reopen the budgets in order to mollify the stubborn bloc of Republicans who are keeping the legislature in an ever-extending special session.

“They won’t mess with my stuff,” Gilbert said. She felt confident that Guinn would remain firm about the scope and goals of the special session.

“I doubt if they’re going to open all those budgets,” Gilbert said. “It really puts those Republicans in a pickle. They’ve been so afraid to raise taxes.”

For Gilbert, the session won’t be over until some kind of tax package is passed.

“[The issue of] taxes was one of our big things,” she said. “Most states have a corporate tax on business. We have a business license tax, a head tax. It’s very, very little, and it’s not a very fair tax. You’ve got to tax [businesses] on what they make. A unified business tax gets at people who are making a lot of money and not paying very much.”

A broad-based business tax is a fair tax, she said. But since businesses have gone largely untaxed for so long, they aren’t going to go gently into that good night.

Besides the tax debate, Gilbert can list a few other disappointments. A living wage bill failed to pass out of the Senate. It would have kicked off a state study to track data on what makes a living wage. The information could be used to develop a self-sufficiency standard like those many other states have.

“That part of the bill nobody had heartburn about,” Gilbert said. The controversy came when the bill called for provisions that could tax businesses that didn’t provide employee health care coverage or give tax discounts to those who did provide coverage. Of course, to provide a tax break assumes that businesses are going to be paying taxes.

“Not having a real good business tax, it’s hard to give an incentive to business,” Gilbert said.

PLAN was also on the front line of a failed bill to do away with corporate sureties as guarantees for mining reclamation bonding. Great Basin Mine Watch has long argued that these kinds of promises could leave taxpayers with the tab to clean up defunct mines if a large mining corporation went belly up.

“But I think that overall we did pretty well,” Gilbert said. “If we can get this tax package done, the state will be better off. The governor did such a good job presenting his budget [at the beginning of the session]. He included a lot of the things we care about.”

The number of children eligible for health care through Nevada Check-up was increased, as was the number of senior citizens who’ll be able to access prescription medication through SeniorRx. Access to Medicare was expanded.

"We are pleased," Gilbert said. "These are things we worked on."