by April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current
January 24, 2023
Several legislative proposals championed by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo during his state of the state speech Monday have already been declared dead on arrival by Democratic legislative leaders.
“That’s a non-starter,” Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager said of the governor’s desire to undo the move to universal mail ballots, which Democrats passed in the 2021 legislative session. “Fifty percent of Nevadans cast their ballot by mail last election. That’s 500,000 Nevadans. That’s Democrats, Republicans, nonpartisans alike.”
Yeager added that there was “no room for compromise” on that front and or on other issues like criminal justice, school privatization and health care that largely fall along partisan lines.
Lombardo in his state of the state speech argued that universal mail ballots are “inefficient and unnecessary” and will cost the state $7 million in the upcoming budget. The governor also called for stricter voter identification requirements and said he believes all mail ballots should be received by counties by the close of polls on Election Day. Currently, ballots must be postmarked by Election Day but can be received by counties up to four days after Election Day and still be legally counted.
Moving up the deadline for receiving ballots, Lombardo said, would put Nevada “in line with national norms” and ensure that “ election reporting does not drag on for days when the balance of the nation has moved on.”
Lombardo on the campaign trail and during his inauguration speech promised to expand school choice options, and his state of the speech proposed $50 million in funding for Opportunity Scholarships, which help pay private school tuition.
Opportunity Scholarships were established by a Republican-controlled Legislature in 2015 during Gov. Brian Sandoval’s administration and their funding has been a bargaining chip during the Democratic-controlled legislative sessions since.
Lombardo is calling for a significant expansion of the program, which Democrats last funded with only enough money to sustain enrollment for students who were already receiving the scholarships. In his speech, he said state Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert would be working on the issue.
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro was critical of the proposal, saying the state needs to focus its investments on public education, specifically through increasing teacher salaries to help with teacher retention and recruitment.
“If we cannot put a qualified teacher in every classroom, I do not know why we would ever entertain an idea to take public dollars away from those kids who deserve an education and put it toward a private corporation,” she said. “That to me doesn’t make sense and is a non-starter for myself and my caucus.”
Lombardo’s Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer in a separate media event earlier Monday said the governor’s office believes their proposed education budget is “adequate to cover teacher raises,” but he declined to speculate on how significant those might be. Raises for educators, he added, would ultimately need to be negotiated by school districts and their respective unions.
While the Legislature does not directly fund school district employees the way they do state employees, it is not unprecedented for governors to call for specific raises. Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak during his 2019 state of the state specified that his budget proposal factored in 3% raises for educators, and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval in a 2018 recommended budget also noted factoring in specific merit pay increases.
Cannizzaro also blasted Lombardo for wanting the state to abandon its progress on introducing a public health option.
Democrats passed a public option bill during the 2021 legislative session and set an implementation date for 2026.
Lombardo described the public option bill as “political theater” and said that “at minimum this law needs to be substantially revised, or better yet repealed, so we can re-focus on the real problem which is getting eligible but uninsured Nevadans the coverage they need.”
He did not elaborate.
“There is no plan (from the governor) to figure out how to insure the static number of Nevadans that remain uninsured, despite the expansion of Medicaid and despite investments in other health care pieces, which is exactly why we passed the public option,” said Cannizzaro.
Cannizzaro defended the public option timeline, saying the years-long roll out is designed to ensure the state implements it correctly. She also noted that launching a public option “is the law” and does not need to pass through the Legislature again, suggesting it may be beyond the reach of a disapproving governor.
Criminal justice reforms
Lombardo in his state of the state speech promised to introduce a bill that would undo parts of 2019’s Assembly Bill 236, which reformed a variety of criminal justice laws.
Lombardo, a career cop who was most recently sheriff of Clark County, said of that bill: “We can see clearly that some of those changes didn’t produce the outcomes we were predicting. In fact, they made things worse.”
Yeager, who championed AB 236, said the opposite is true. He criticized Lombardo for pushing a “tough on crime” narrative that ignores the nuances of complicated issues surrounding the criminal justice system.
“The data that we’ve seen shows that it works,” said Yeager. “That number one, it’s making us safer. And number two, it’s saving the state money so we can reinvest in things like mental health care, which we all agree is an issue.”
Yeager pointed out that Lombardo as sheriff did not oppose AB 236, though Lombardo said he did so only “in the spirit of compromise.”
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