By SAM METZ Associated Press/Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Gov. Steve Sisolak said he’s proud of what Nevada lawmakers accomplished during the legislative session that ended this week and believes policies to fuel economic growth, boost funding for schools and fix outdated infrastructure will set the state on a path toward recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
“With what’s ahead for the state, I’m really optimistic compared to the day I started the session back in February,” he told reporters during an interview Tuesday in his Carson City office.
After a year that forced discussions with staff about a potential shortage of body bags and the impact of increased cremations on air quality, Sisolak said he hopes to parley pandemic recovery efforts into long-term economic development.
The governor contrasted the actions taken by the Democratic-controlled Legislature with policies Republican counterparts in Florida and Texas are pushing. In Texas, lawmakers backed by Gov. Greg Abbott are trying to pass an election policy bill to limit drive-thru voting, polling place hours and voting by mail. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill barring transgender student-athletes from competing on girls’ sports teams in public schools.
“In Texas, the legislators walked off the floor because of an election situation; we got more election access passed. We improved LGBTQ rights in the state of Nevada. In Florida, they’re signing a bill discriminating against transgender folks. So I am damn proud of what this Legislature did and some of the good stuff that we got passed,” Sisolak said.
Nevada lawmakers passed legislation Monday to send all active voters mail-in ballots in future elections and expand gender-neutral restrooms.
Assemblyman Tom Roberts, a Las Vegas Republican, said the minority party left the Legislature feeling pleased with how it negotiated to include support for charter schools and opportunity scholarships in a deal to increase taxes on the mining industry. But he has concerns about policies that could hamper businesses as the state attempts to rebound from the pandemic, he said.
Roberts, who serves as Assembly Republicans’ co-deputy minority leader, said he worried about requiring small businesses to adopt certain paid sick leave policies because it could saddle them with new costs at a difficult time. But overall, he said he felt the Legislature had been more business-friendly than it was in 2019, given the pandemic.
“In this atmosphere, we shouldn’t be doing anything that negatively impacts business,” he said.
Roberts said one of his top concerns was the potential effect that a proposal to create a state-based public health insurance option could have on the market.
Sisolak said he intended to sign that measure after it passed along party lines over the weekend. The policy will pave the way to making Nevada the second state in the U.S. with a public option, which would require some insurers to offer the state-guided plan at a certain cost. The price-setting mechanism, which would tie premiums to Medicare rates, is opposed by hospitals and insurance companies.
Nevada must complete a study on the plan’s financial effects and receive permission from the federal government to offer the plan by 2026 as the legislation intends.
“It’s a longer process and not something that you flip a switch and happens overnight,” Sisolak said. “Anytime there’s an opportunity to get health care coverage available for more Nevadans, it’s certainly something I’m interested in, and we’re gonna pursue it in that direction.”
Throughout a tumultuous legislative session, progressives pilloried Sisolak, first for a proposal to give private companies some local government powers to lure them to Nevada and later for his opposition to repealing the death penalty.
The governor, who is up for reelection next year, said he still believed ideas like “Innovation Zones” were necessary to diversify Nevada’s economy.
Sisolak said federal coronavirus relief, coupled with a historic deal to increase taxes on the state’s mining industry, offered an unprecedented opportunity to “reshape the future of Nevada,” which he hopes to continue to do if elected to a second term.
“I think that we made it through and we’re coming out on the other side better and stronger,” he said.
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.