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Lawmakers hurtle toward end of session, key bills unresolved


By SAM METZ AP / Report for America

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A proposal to create a state-based public health insurance option has yet to be heard by the state Assembly. A plan to move up Nevada’s presidential primary to make it the first in the nation has yet to be heard by the state Senate.

And a long-rumored measure to reform Nevada’s mining tax structure has yet to surface.

Lawmakers are hoping to speed the passage of priority bills in the final full week of the session. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Monday and, to remain under consideration, most bills had to clear either the Senate or the Assembly weeks ago.

Here are several priority proposals that remained up in the air as of Wednesday:

Unemployment System Update

Lawmakers on Monday held the first hearing on a proposal introduced a week ago to spend up to $54 million to update the state’s unemployment insurance system. The unemployment department struggled to issue checks to the hundreds of thousands of Nevada residents laid off last year due to the pandemic. Laid-off workers complained about technological glitches on the department’s website, long wait times on the phone, and having their claims identified as fraudulent. Meanwhile, the department said fraudulent claims cost the state billions of dollars.

Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative leaders from both parties identified fixing the system as a top priority early in the session. But discussions were delayed until the U.S. Treasury Department released guidelines about how state governments could spend federal coronavirus relief funds. The proposal under consideration would draw $54 million from the state’s $2.7 billion in relief dollars.

Tenant Protection

Most of the the tenant protection proposals that housing advocates have pushed stalled earlier in the session, but lawmakers on Monday held their first hearing on a proposal to stave off evictions once the state’s pandemic moratorium ends this month. The proposal would require landlords to inform tenants about the millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds earmarked for rental assistance before issuing eviction notices.

‘Right to Return’

Labor unions and large casinos and resorts have fought over a proposal that would require businesses to rehire laid-off workers at pre-pandemic wages, rather than recruit new employees. The Culinary Union Local 226, which represents 60,000 workers in resorts and casinos and commands major clout in Nevada, wants its members hired back under contracts they negotiated with management, rather than be replaced by workers who haven’t accrued as many benefits. Some resorts and casinos argued mandates would be difficult to enforce and could hamper the state’s path to recovery.

Lawmakers introduced an amendment to the proposal on Tuesday night that addressed concerns about enforcement and litigation, giving management at least 15 days to comply with the rehiring law before the issues can go to court or the state Labor Commissioner. The Senate passed the amended proposal on Wednesday, sending it to the Assembly.

Elections and Voting

After the country’s attention was turned to Nevada’s vote-counting and election procedures in 2020, lawmakers are pushing changes to the election procedures. Proposals from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson would send mail-in ballots to all active voters in future elections and make Nevada’s presidential primary the first in the nation.

Both proposals sat in a budget committee with no hearing scheduled for more than a month but were discussed on Tuesday and passed through the Assembly on Wednesday.

Public Option

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro’s proposal to create a state-based public health insurance option passed the Senate on Monday but has yet to be heard in the Assembly. Hospital associations and insurance companies have vehemently opposed the measure, arguing mandates and price controls could compel providers to leave Nevada and exacerbate the state’s practitioner shortage. The bill passed the Senate on Monday and how heads to the Assembly.

Government Tracking

The Associated Press and The Markup reported weeks ago that the vaccination website run by a nonprofit on behalf of the state planted more third-party cookies and ad trackers than any state vaccination website in the country. The disclosure prompted Republican lawmakers to introduce a proposal to tighten the restrictions on how personal data can be collected from websites operated by government entities or other groups contracted to work on their behalf. The bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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