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Progressive bills stall in Nevada; activists disappointed


By SAM METZ AP/Report for America

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Downcast Democratic Party-aligned groups and activists rebuked leaders from their own party Friday after proposals they championed to repeal the death penalty and expand tenant protections failed to make it past a key legislative deadline.

Bills that made it through one chamber — either the state Senate or Assembly — must advance out of committee in the opposite chamber in order to remain under consideration in the legislative session.

Proposals to limit police use of force, crack down on housing discrimination and ban law enforcement agencies from using ticket and arrest quotas passed Friday, while efforts to limit when the death penalty can be sought and when landlords can take tenants’ security deposits and charge late fees stalled amid heated opposition and a lack of negotiated compromise.

The intra-party conflict reflects tensions facing both parties as they work to maintain their appeal to moderate voters while also satisfying an increasingly vocal activist base.

“I’ve been burned so many times in this building that I don’t even know what’s left,” Annette Magnus, the executive director of Battleborn Progress, told viewers of her “Out in Front’ webcast on Thursday evening.

Nevada has trended blue in recent years. Democrats now make up 36% of the electorate. Republicans account for 31%, and voters registered as nonpartisan are 26%.

Since 2018, Democrats have commanded majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly and occupied the governor’s mansion. With that trifecta of government control, they can pass any non-tax proposal without across-the-aisle support and send it to the governor for final approval.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro inside the Legislature on Tuesday, March 9, 2021 in Carson City, Nev. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, a Las Vegas Democrat, said her party’s lawmakers had taken major strides to reform the criminal justice system in recent legislative sessions and noted Thursday that proposals that address police use of force, cash bail and criminalizing traffic violations remained under consideration.

“We’ve done a lot of work here in the state of Nevada, and I’d encourage anyone who thinks we’re not doing enough to take a look at other states and ask whether or not we are. Because I know when I talk to colleagues from other states, they are amazed that we’re able to make such progress. You’re seeing that again this session,” Cannizzaro said. It is not fair “to say that, because every measure doesn’t make it over the finish line, that we’re not tackling problems in a real way.”

But the extent of criminal justice reform and the Legislature’s failure to repeal the death penalty has not satisfied many, including public defender John Piro.

“The session has shown us that — no matter what — police unions wield an outsized amount of power. They just do. In this building, for some reason, their voice is always going to trump community members’ voices. That’s disheartening,” he told Magnus on “Out in Front” on Thursday.

“Why are we coming up here if we’re not going to help our kids, our seniors and our mentally ill? What are we doing?” he added.

Laura Martin, the executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said progressives had long been told that if Nevada Democrats gained control of state government, they could transform the state by passing tenant protections, raising minimum wage, expanding protection for immigrants and reforming the criminal justice system. She said disappointed activists who had knocked on doors and campaigned for

Democratic candidates for the statehouse might not be as inclined to turn out to vote in the 2022 midterm elections.

“A lot of times the Democrats in the Legislature play to an audience that probably will never support them in elections, at the expense of people who always do but maybe won’t anymore,” she said. “I think they will (vote), but Democrats need to do the work in the interim to rebuild trust.”

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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